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The rescue squad’s remarkable work

A member of the Sheriff’s Volunteer Rescue Squad on the ice. (Photo: St. Louis County)1 / 2
Sheriff’s Volunteer Rescue Squad training exercise in 2014. (Photo: St. Louis County)2 / 2

Within St. Louis County, we have a group of highly skilled individuals — currently 64 in all — who provide a level of dedication and service that is almost beyond comprehension. The Sheriff’s Volunteer Rescue Squad is exactly that, a group of volunteers. They don’t get paid, even when called to assist with an emergency in the middle of the night when the temperature is far below zero.

In 2016, Rescue Squad members volunteered a total of 23,242 hours. This included responding to a record 437 calls, a 35 percent increase over their average annual call volume, and 64 calls more than in any previous year.

Among their calls in 2016, the Rescue Squad saw a dramatic increase in the number of wilderness operations: a total of 144 incidents (the previous record was 103) involving 183 people. This included 72 searches for lost and missing people; 64 wilderness rescues such as trauma and medical emergencies, including 29 snowmobile and ATV accidents; one plane crash and seven searches for evidence.

Last year was also a busy year for water operations, which includes water fatalities, watercraft accidents and the water component of wilderness searches and rescues. There were 90 water-related calls in 2016, the second-highest ever for the Rescue Squad. Only 2012, the year of the flood, saw more. Sadly, 10 of those calls involved fatalities, five in St. Louis County and five mutual-aid calls to other agencies.

The Rescue Squad mobilized six times in the wake of major weather events to check on homes and cabins, clear trees and debris, direct traffic and provide other support.

Perhaps the number we should be most grateful for is 42. That’s how many people were in life-threatening situations and yet are alive today because the Rescue Squad responded and made a critical difference. And that’s just in the last year.

The Rescue Squad has been in existence since 1958 and is currently led by Captain Rick Slatten. The group’s mission is three-part: wilderness search and rescue, boat and water safety, and first aid and public safety. Over the years they’ve built a strong reputation for professionalism. They provide an incredible amount of help to our deputy sheriffs, as well as to other police, fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) agencies who request their help, both within our county and throughout the region. For most Rescue Squad members, roughly half their time is spent in actual calls. The other half is spent in training, on the skills and specialized equipment needed to fulfill their mission.

The Rescue Squad is always looking for new members. Some people join out of a desire to serve and help. For others, it’s the love of a challenge or to gain new skills and experience. Some members are fresh out of college; others have been with the group for decades.

The Rescue Squad conducts just one fundraising effort each year through a mailing in the summer which raises approximately $120,000 annually from St. Louis County residents. Other funding sources include the Sheriff’s Office, which provides vehicles, and the Department of Natural Resources, which provides funds for boats. Donations to the Rescue Squad are tax deductible and can be made any time of year. Checks can be mailed to St. Louis County Sheriff’s Volunteer Rescue Squad, PO Box 16222, Duluth, MN 55816.

You can learn more about the Rescue Squad, what it takes to volunteer, or how you can support them, by calling (218) 625-3961 or visiting stlouiscountymn.gov/rescuesquad. You also can connect with them on social media at facebook.com/slcrescue.

Ross Litman is the St. Louis County sheriff.

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