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A benefit for Tess and Aaron Kalberer is scheduled for Oct. 12. Aaron was injured in a shop explosion in August. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Benefit for DL explosion victim is Oct. 12

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Benefit for DL explosion victim is Oct. 12
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

When Detroit Lakes High School sweethearts Aaron and Tess Kalberer got married this summer, they vowed to love each other “in sickness and in health.”

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That little vow came in handy two months later when Aaron was smack dab in the middle of an exploding shop.

That day

On Aug. 28, Aaron Kalberer was in his father’s shop on Pearl Lake changing a fuel pump on his pickup.

His new bride, Tess, was just coming off the lake to see if she could help him.

“I walked around the car, and he said ‘I’m almost done,’” said Tess, “and as he did he must have bumped something.”

That something was the fuel tank.

“It started dumping gas all over the floor,” said Aaron, who along with Tess, began trying to contain it.

It didn’t take long for Tess to start getting a headache and the idea that they should get out of there.

“So I opened up one of the garage doors because I don’t think he noticed how fumy it was in there,” said Tess, who took a few steps out of the shop.

Just as she was doing so, Aaron was grabbing the cord to the battery charger that he noticed was still plugged in.

“I was going to unplug it because we were worried about it starting a fire,” he said, not realizing it was about to start something much more dramatic.

“When I unplugged the charger from the extension cord, I immediately saw flames shoot up towards my face, and I turned around and the whole shop was up in flames,” he said.

Aaron’s new wife saw and heard the nightmare in front of her.

“It sparked, and then it was a huge…not bang, but a crazy noise like a whoof, and then the flames came barreling out.”

The flames grazed Tess’s shin and foot, but her husband’s screams is what she remembers the most.

“It was scary; he was screaming, but I couldn’t see him,” she said, adding that because of the way things were situated in the shop, he couldn’t run straight out. He had to run around things first to get out.

“I was in there for probably five to six seconds,” Aaron said, who said the pain was excruciating and immediate.

“As soon as I saw him I began yelling at him to stop, drop and roll,” she says, now laughing at how that old lesson in school really stuck with her.

But although he was burned, he wasn’t on fire.

Aaron told Tess to get his brother and sister out of the house, which was quite close to the shop.

“The heat had cracked the windows in the house and melted the siding,” he said, “so I just wanted them out of there.”

Not understanding just how hurt he was, Aaron’s adrenaline had him running over to the neighbor’s house while his family called 9-1-1.

“My neighbor is that kind of guy that I knew would rush over and try to go and help, and so I wanted him to know that everybody was out and OK,” said Aaron, who was on his way down to the lake with his siblings and wife to cool his skin down.

A mother’s scare

Aaron’s mother, Harrietta Kalberer was on her way home when she got passed by a police officer with his lights on.

“So, I pulled over to let him go by,” she said, not knowing the officer was headed to her house.

“Then my younger son, Ross, called and he was yelling — I couldn’t understand him,” said Harrietta. “All I heard was ‘explosion’ and ‘fire’ and ‘Aaron,’” she said, then realizing the emergency response was for her family.

“But he told me everything I needed to know at that moment — everybody was out and down by the lake,” she said.

That burn

Nobody realized just how severe Aaron’s injuries were.

Burns take a while to manifest, “so it just looked like he had a bad sunburn,” said Harrietta.

But the cool lake soon had Aaron’s skin blistering and worse —“His skin started falling off,” said Tess.

One of the neighbors who was a nurse began wrapping his leg before the ambulance brought him to the St. Mary’s emergency room in Detroit Lakes.

Tess didn’t even have shoes on her feet as she boarded the ambulance with Aaron.

It wasn’t long after he arrived in the ER, that doctors determined he should be transferred to the Hennepin County Burn Unit where he would stay in intensive care.

“It didn’t really hit me until I saw him there all wrapped up in the bed,” said Tess. “It was really overwhelming, and it really shocked me into reality.”

The newlywed couple began pondering all of the things that could have meant the difference between life and death.

What if Tess hadn’t opened the garage door just moments before the explosion? What if Aaron hadn’t taken his contacts out right before the incident?

“My doctor says they would have melted into my eyes,” he said, adding that he also wasn’t wearing his usual polyester shorts that would’ve burned into his thighs.

“And that’s a good thing because that’s where they took my skin grafts from,” he said, adding that those surgeries were the most pain he’d ever experienced in his life.

But between his mom, his dad, his wife and other family and friends, Aaron was rarely alone during his long, painful recovery.

“For a mom, when your grown child is crying, all you want to do is comfort them, but you know you can’t — all you can do is cry with them,” said Harrietta.

Aaron left the Hennepin Burn Unit after three and a half weeks — a fast recovery for the severity of injuries.

He credits his attitude and the attitude of the friends and family surrounding him every day.

“My dad always likes to say ‘Everyone is dealt a bad hand in life, but it’s all about how you play your cards.’ You can make a losing hand a winner depending on how you play them.”

Tess and Aaron are now back home where Aaron is slowly getting back to his job designing bridges for an engineering company in Fargo, and Tess is working on her degree in occupational therapy.

Ironically, she now has a pretty good case to practice on.

“I’ll definitely know what the significant others are going through, so hopefully I’ll be able to provide some comfort that way, too,” she said, confident that this accident happened for a higher reason, and that her and Aaron would eventually find a way to make a difference from it.

What is important, says Aaron, is good friends and family.

“And mine are as good as it gets,” he said, smiling.

Now, those friends and family are working together to throw a benefit for Aaron and Tess, to take place Saturday, Oct. 12. at the Shorewood Pub from 4 to 8 p.m. A free will pork loin donation dinner will be served, along with beer tasting, a rifle auction, raffles and a silent auction.

Cash contributions or prize donations for the benefit can be dropped off at First Security Bank in Detroit Lakes.

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