Imagine getting a call in the middle of the night to go rescue a stranger who’s lost deep in the woods, miles from the nearest road. In the winter. When it’s 30 degrees below zero outside. And doing it for nothing but the satisfaction of making a difference.
For the 59 members of the all-volunteer St. Louis County Rescue Squad, this scenario doesn’t require imagination. It’s an experience that’s all too common.
While most of us are busy living our lives, this remarkable group of volunteers are working, largely unheralded, to protect the lives of hundreds of individuals who find themselves in harm’s way somewhere in the North Country. And for most members of the squad, it’s not just an occasional gig. According to the rescue squad’s 2018 annual report, released late last week, its members volunteered a total of 24,515 hours in 2018, the second highest total in the organization’s 60-year history. If you do the math, that’s more than 400 hours per volunteer, on average. And some put in far more than that.
During the past year, the rescue squad ran 405 missions, the third consecutive year with more than 400 missions. That included 73 searches and 46 rescue missions, many of them involving miles of off-road travel, often on foot, by canoe, ATV or snowmobile, depending on the season.
They responded to 10 water fatalities but also made a critical difference in the live rescue of 22 others who had gotten themselves in trouble on the water. They set up remote helicopter landing sites, performed heavy extrications, and conducted five rope rescues.
They don’t always get there in time, which means that these volunteers frequently engage in body recoveries, a particularly grisly task that most of us would probably rather not have to think about.
Of course, the rescue squad does all this stressful work under some of the most trying conditions imaginable. It’s bad weather or darkness that often creates the need for rescue, which means the squad regularly operates at night, in bitter cold, high winds, rain, snow, or in the aftermath of severe storms. It isn’t just uncomfortable and tiring work— it’s often hazardous, even life-threatening.
The members of the squad are not only people who care. They are people who are willing to put in the training time to ensure that when they’re called upon, they’ll be able to make a difference. All of the members of the squad are trained in emergency medicine, at least to the First Responder level, and many are certified as EMTs and even paramedics. Many are certified human trackers, scuba divers, or can rappel from a helicopter in the middle of the night.
And yet it’s more than training. Members of the squad are also expected to attend regular meetings, respond to calls, clean and maintain squad facilities, tools and equipment, and keep a ready kit with all the gear they might need in their vehicle at all times. It’s an incredible personal commitment.
These remarkable volunteers not only deserve our thanks, they deserve our support. While the members are volunteers, it still costs plenty to maintain the rescue squad and its operations— and they rely heavily on donations from the public to make it happen. We know there’s no shortage of worthy causes to which we can all donate, yet the rescue squad is one where you know your donation will make a difference, possibly, someday, for someone close to you.
You can mail donations to the St. Louis County Rescue Squad at: St. Louis County Rescue Squad, PO Box 16222, Duluth, MN 55816, or donate online at their Facebook page.
You may not be able or willing to respond to that emergency call in the middle of the night. But at least you can do your part by providing a little financial support to the incredible work of those who do.