Making sacrifices is a given when it comes to being a first responder — lack of sleep after the pager goes off in the dead of night, time away from family members, stress from traumatic calls and so much more.
But they are sacrifices each and every one on the Swanville First Response Team gladly make. To them it is about being there for those in a time of need, helping people and serving their community and surrounding areas.
“When you see the look on their face when you walk through that door, it is so much relief that we can be there to help them,” said Sandy Lange, first responder and mayor of Swanville.
The Swanville First Response Team was established in 1982 and currently has 14 members. The team responds to mostly medical calls, but also to more traumatic events, such as car crashes.
Besides the initial 40 hours of required training to become a licensed first responder, the first responders have to take a 16-hour refresher course every other year. In addition, the team also touches up members’ knowledge at their monthly meetings. Many topics and scenarios are discussed as they respond to a variety of calls, such as cardiac, stroke, diabetes, heat stroke or heat exhaustion, car accidents and more.
At a mock crash held at the Swanville High School, May 13, the first responders had the opportunity to practice their back boarding skills and other tasks.
First Responder Jeremiah Determan said he was taken by the actress, Hailee Schmidt, who played the role of the driver.
“You knew something was wrong because she wouldn’t sit down and she wouldn’t calm down. Her acting was pretty amazing,” he said.
Determan said that sometimes accident victims may wander around at the scene and are often more concerned about other victims than themselves and may act nervous in general.
Although the actress was fine after the mock crash, the reality of a crash, medical situations or other incidents can be a lot more dire.
“When they are walking around they can do more damage to themselves. We had that happen once. We had a girl who was bleeding internally. She was doing fine, she got out of the car and once we put her in the back of the ambulance, she didn’t make it,” he said.
One man kept trying to get up, but didn’t realize he had broken his neck.
“He could have injured himself enough to paralyze himself,” Lange said.
Fortunately, the man lived.
Responding to a call can sometimes get dangerous for the first responders. While some people may be high on drugs and may swing at emergency personnel, those who are hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) can become quite confused and very combative.
“Their breath smells like they have been drinking so you think they are intoxicated when they are not,” Lange said.
As a result, the first responders sometimes, mostly during medical calls, test the person’s blood sugar level to determine if they are hypoglycemic.
“If they can’t talk, they can’t tell us if they are diabetic,” said First Responder Rhonda Alnes.
The Swanville First Response Team covers a 90-square mile radius from Swanville. How long the response time is depends on how far out responders are by the time they get the call. Sometimes road construction and detours can delay them even more.
Where the responders live can make a difference as well when it comes to response time.
Several members, who live on the east, west, north and south side of Swanville have been strategically placed so that their vehicles are equipped with oxygen. That way they can respond faster to a situation and may beat “the rig” there. Their vehicles will soon also be equipped with automated external defibrillators (AED)
As the responders all serve as volunteers, they never know how many will respond to a given call. Many have day jobs and may not be able to leave their work or may be away for a weekend.
Lange said there has only been one instance where no one from the team was able to come.
“We felt really bad about that,” she said.
Lange joined the Swanville First Response Team in 2009. She and Determan joined together. The passion for serving the community was passed on to her son, Carl Raymond (CR) Peterson.
Although Peterson joined the team two years ago, he is no rookie to the scene as he has served as a volunteer firefighter for the Swanville Fire Department for six years.
The experience comes in handy, especially in situations where the responders have to work closely with the firefighters, such as when using the Jaws of Life.
“I know where it will need to be cut and how to protect the victim,” he said.
Peterson is also usually the first to arrive to the hall to get the rig once a call comes in. He lives only about a block away, he said.
Responders Brian Alnes and his wife, Rhonda, on the other hand, live about eight miles from Swanville by Lake Beauty and never makes it in time for the rig. Instead, they just meet the others at the location.
Being married to one another and serving as first responders together has its perks. Many times they’ll discuss the call they respond to so by the time they arrive, they have already prepared what course they are likely to take, he said.
It also helps them to debrief to each other after a call. But sometimes they run into the issue of one wanting to talk about it and the other does not.
“I’ll just talk to one of the other first responders then,” she said.
When calls have been particularly difficult or tough to handle, Chaplain Dave Greaver with the Central Minnesota Chaplaincy of Todd County or Chaplain Gregg Valentine with the Morrison County Chaplaincy debrief the responders.
Whenever the chaplains are unable to do a debriefing, Brian Alnes, who is also a pastor, steps in and debriefs.
Brian said he has been a first responder since 1986. Rhonda joined in 2015.
Despite the challenges that come with being a responder, it is worth it. After all, it is about service of the community, Brian said.