HACKENSACK -- Hackensack First Response has grown from a few snowmobile club members former Cass County Sheriff Louis Chalich deputized in the mid-1970s to a highly professional crew of emergency medical volunteers today.
The first team carried a few bandages in tackle boxes and begged and borrowed blood pressure cuffs. Today's crew of 10 emergency medical technician volunteers each carries $3,000 worth of medications and equipment, plus a $2,000 defibrillator.
The Hackensack group selected the name "first response." Theirs was one of the first groups in the state. Hackensack also was one of the first to obtain a state rules waiver to permit First Responders to administer medications and, they believe, still is one of the only ones not affiliated with an ambulance service or hospital to do so.
Initially, the crew's assignment was to pull injured snowmobilers out of remote areas on a sled the sheriff provided. That quickly grew to responding to all types of medical and injury/accident calls.
Today, two crew members have plows on their pickups and sometimes plow the road and driveway into an emergency location, so an ambulance can get in or pull an ambulance and other first response crew members' cars out of snowbanks on the way out.
Original Hackensack First Response team members Jan Girard (also a nurse) and Mary Parrish gave 25 years of service to the organization before retiring. This spring, LeRoy Westphal will retire with 20 years of service. Westphal also has been a volunteer Hackensack firefighter.
During their monthly meeting in February, today's volunteers reported their annual budget the last four years has ranged from $16,000 to $19,000. Costs include training fees, equipment repairs, insurance for liability and for injuries to volunteers, oxygen, medications and radios and pagers.
They spend about $1,700 per year on medications alone, which have only a two-year life before expiration date.
Donations from individuals, civic organizations, lake associations and townships continue to be the non-profit organization's only income source. Their annual spaghetti feed fund-raiser helps.
Despite the amount of community support they depend upon, first response team member Julie Rono said they still respond to homes where the residents want to know who all these people arriving in cars are when they had called for an ambulance.
An average of five team members responded to the 108 calls they received annually in 2003 and 2002. The number of calls in the mid-1980s ran about 60 a year, said Westphal, who said a peak was hit in the late 1990s at about 150 calls a year.
First Responders provide blood pressure check clinics, sponsor an annual blood drive, speak to organizations, have offered CPR training and volunteer their time at large community gatherings to be on-site in case of emergencies.
Hackensack responders cover some of the Walker, Longville and North (Pine River) ambulance districts. They can call for advanced life support or helicopter airlift services when their patient appears critically ill.
Helicopters used to come from Minneapolis. Now, one is based at Brainerd all year, saving critical time.
The Hackensack team members said they feel like a family, with each member better at some things than others and all interdependent.
Some are better with older people, some with children, they agreed. Butch Moore has an uncanny talent for finding his normal daily routine often places him close to an emergency call site. Rono said she's not good with dogs. Reno Wells is. "Just put them in the car and they're out of the way," he said.
Most of their calls in this small town are for people they know. Tending to victims isn't the only job First Responders do.
Often family members are having a harder time than the victim, they said. Sometimes they sit with the family two to three hours after the ambulance leaves.
Team members sit with children and pets left alone until family or neighbors can take over. They often ride with the ambulance to help continue CPR or assist the ambulance crew in other ways.
They direct traffic, secure a clear zone for a helicopter to land by an emergency site and can get called to help locate missing children.
When their run is over, they return to an unfinished dinner, open the rest of Christmas presents with family, finish giving their own child a bath or go back to work.
Norleen Ward, owner of Up North Cafe, offers Hackensack First Responders free coffee and lunch during her regular business hours. Team members said it really helps to have warm coffee, a little food and a chance to talk over their experience after a call.
Sometimes their efforts have not succeeded or the patient looked in very serious condition when the ambulance left.
On the brighter side, it makes the time they give all worthwhile when they see someone they helped doing well a few days or months later.
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