As rescue captain in the Scandia Fire Department, John R. Larson had the job to make sure the 25 volunteer firefighters kept their emergency medical technician training up to date, a time-consuming role that kept him directly and indirectly involved in saving many lives in his community.

But about 6 a.m. Thursday, coming home to Marine on St. Croix from his night-shift job at the U.S. Postal Service Bulk Mail Center in Eagan, he turned left on a green arrow from Hwy. 36 to Manning Avenue and his car was struck by an oncoming minivan, the State Patrol reported. Larson, 36, died a few hours later after surgery at Regions Hospital, a victim of the same type of accident he and his fellow firefighters had responded to many times.

The westbound driver, Kenneth A. Tougaw, 40, of Bayport, was slightly hurt, according to the State Patrol, which is investigating the accident, which happened in Lake Elmo.

“It’s a huge loss to us,” said Fire Chief Jim Finnegan, whose department was receiving support and condolences from the across the close-knit firefighting and law enforcement community as word of Larson’s death spread. Along with his grieving department, Finnegan said his focus is also to tend to Larson’s wife, Paula, and their three children.

Larson had been with the department nine years; Finnegan picked him to be rescue captain three years ago. Larson quickly took to the leadership role, with the added asset that his night-shift job made him available for daytime duty.

“He was a very active member of our department. He was here because he cared about his community,” Finnegan said. “He was always a positive influence and a major contributor.”

Larson embodied the dedication demanded of volunteer firefighters, who have to train as hard as their full-time counterparts in larger communities, Assistant Fire Chief Mike Hinz added. Along with the training needed to stay current on their EMT licenses, the volunteers serving in Scandia also have to keep up with firefighting skills taught by two other training captains — all told, it involves at least three sessions a month.

Larson’s loss leaves a void in the department and the community, Hinz said. “He was one of those guys who would do whatever he could to help you out.”