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The St. Louis County Sheriff's Volunteer Rescue Squad has provided rescue services and disaster relief within our county for 53 years.

The St. Louis County Volunteer Rescue Squad was founded on August 23, 1958, by three men: Fred Van Derwalker, Donald Isakson, and Roderick Appleby.

The unit they envisioned was one of volunteer private citizens, who, in their free time, would train extensively in various aspects of rescue work, searches, first aid, and accident prevention by public education.

On August 23, 1958, this group of men approached Sheriff Sam Owens with the idea of forming such a rescue unit for St. Louis County.  They were informed by the County Attorney that state legislation was required to authorize the county to accept such a unit.

Officers and charter members of the Rescue Squad were:

  • Captain Fred Van Derwalker
  • 1st Lieutenant Harold “Bozo” Wilson              
  • 2nd Lieutenant Ryan Markfelt
  • Sgt. Donald Isakson
  • Sgt. Royal Adams
  • Ken Slatten, Secretary
  • Robert Lee, Treasurer
  • James Rogers
  • Harlin Behn
  • Dave Coleman
  • Marsh Slatten
  • Rod Appleby  
  • James Helgemoe
  • Gordon Bromme
  • Robert Olson

1970 Expansion

In 1968 Sheriff Greg Sertich stated he would like to see the Rescue Squad expanded to include a detachment on the Iron Range, possibly based in Virginia, to provide the same rescue squad service which was available in Duluth to residents of northern areas of St. Louis County.

In 1970 the swearing-in of the Charter Members for the Range detachment of the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Rescue Unit was held at the Cook Village Hall.

This group would supplement the thirty-man squad which was based in Duluth and brought the squad up to its maximum authorized strength of forty-five men. 

The Rescue Squad was headed by Captain Ken Slatten.  Officers of the newly formed group were:

  • 1st Lieutenant in charge of Range detachment Robert Carver
  • 2nd Lieutenant Frank Hyppa
  • 2nd Lieutenant Donald Price
  • John Amundson
  • Melvin Bakk
  • Donald Barnes
  • John Bergman
  • Arnie Johnson
  • Kenneth Leding
  • Paul Richardson
  • Dennis Rinne
  • Donald Simonson
  • Dexter Straw
  • Associate member David Angler


Volunteer Rescue Squad members engage in many hours of training throughout the year, respond to a wide range of emergency situations, and present a number of public safety talks and displays throughout the community. Rescue Squad members come from varied backgrounds and all contribute different skills in support of the mission of the Rescue Squad.

Type of Operation
Land SAR / Wilderness
Wilderness Operations (Searches, Rescues)   153*
Number of Subjects 156*  
Plane Crashes 2  
Rope Rescue Operations 2  
Water Operations   99
Water Fatalities 12  
“Saves” 20  
Vehicle Accidents (10-50;10-52;10-54)   188*
Extrications Performed 15  
Aircraft Landing Zones set up by Rescue Squad Personnel 11  
Medical and Miscellaneous
Medical Calls   55*
Miscellaneous (Deputy and Fire Assists, etc.)   47*
Total Number of Operations in 2019: 542*

* Denotes record 

Rescue Squad members volunteered a total of 28,093 hours in 2019, shattering the previous record (25,282 in 2006) by almost 3000 hours!

Wilderness Operations -- Includes searches for lost and missing people as well as wilderness rescues such as trauma and medical emergencies, including snowmobile and ATV accidents not involving collision with a motor vehicle on a roadway. 

The record total of 153 includes 80 searches (72 for people; 8 for evidence), 69 wilderness rescues (including 40 snowmobile and ATV accidents), 2 aircraft crashes, and 2 rope rescue operations. 


Number of Subjects -- The Rescue Squad keeps separate numbers on the people we assist in land SAR operations, mainly to track direct “customer service.”  People frequently ask, “How many searches did you have last year?” which is a complicated question to answer.  Not all operations involve human subjects (evidence searches, property recovery, etc.) while some operations involve multiple missing or injured parties.  Tracking the number of subjects captures the “people we helped” element as opposed to looking for a gun used in a crime or recovering a stolen snowmobile, which are certainly important operations, but different in the way we handle them.  The overall total of 156 is the highest in the Squad’s history.


Plane Crashes – This category reflects confirmed aircraft crashes only, not calls that prove to be unfounded or calls to stand by for emergency landings.  The Squad averages about one per year over our 61-year history. 


Water Operations – This category includes water fatalities, watercraft accidents, and the water component of wilderness searches and rescues.  Although this definition is slightly different from the DNR reporting criteria, it paints a more realistic picture of Rescue Squad water activities.  The 2019 total of 99 falls second to the record 124, set in 2012, the year of the flood. 


Water Fatalities -- This category includes drownings, as well as hypothermia and trauma-related water deaths.  Our annual average is 7.6.  There were seven “in-county” recoveries, as well as five mutual-aid calls to other agencies. 


“Saves” -- This is a hard category to pin down, since the common perception of a save is often the rescue of an arm-waving, panic-stricken swimmer about to drown.  While what constitutes a “save” is certainly arguable, the Rescue Squad views it as having made a critical difference in terms of not only the preservation of life and limb, but also in preventing further gross personal hardship due to complications of trauma or medical emergency.  For example, a capsized boater may swim to an island, but if he is stranded there, injured and suffering from hypothermia, he’s certainly not “safe.”  He is still in a life-threatening condition requiring outside intervention.  The year-end total of 20 is typical in the modern era.  The record (101) occurred as a direct result of the 2012 flood. 


Vehicle Accidents -- The number of road responses has fluctuated greatly over our 61-year history due to changes in dispatch protocols, as well as the evolving role of field care providers.  The record total of 188, while typical in the era of 911-Dispatch and auto-page protocols, also captures the effects of several early-season winter storms. 


Extrications -- This number is based on the call, not the person (we extricated 9 from one vehicle some years ago), and includes the use of hand, pneumatic, and hydraulic tools to facilitate the removal of patients trapped in vehicles or by other conditions (cave-in, industrial accidents, etc.)  Fifteen extrications reflect a return to “average.” The Squad has seen lower numbers in the face of more rural fire departments obtaining extrication tools. 


ALZ Set-ups -- Includes only Aircraft Landing Zones where Rescue Squad personnel led the effort, served as Landing Zone Officer (LZO), or communicated LZ conditions and navigation information directly with the helicopter.  It does not include simply blocking traffic around the LZ, which is included in the “traffic control” outcome code in the spreadsheets.  The 2019 total of 11 LZ’s is right on average.


Medical Calls -- The Rescue Squad is the primary dispatch agency for townships that do not have first responder networks, and we are the secondary dispatch agency for those that do.  Moreover, many of our medicals occur during first-aid standbys such as the Duluth Air Show or Grandma’s Marathon.  The 2019 total of 55 is a new record.


Miscellaneous Calls -- As the title implies, these can be anything; however, typical calls in this category include assisting fire suppression support (grass, forest, structure), motorist assists (engine trouble, flat tires), deputy assists, and anything that doesn’t readily fit into another category. 


Call Volume – Total call volume for the year was 542, shattering our previous 2016 record of 437 by more than a hundred operations!


Boat & Water Safety Statistics


Number of Volunteers


County Watercraft



Number of Rental Boats Inspected



Number of Classes or Talks Given



Number of B&W Displays



Total Volunteer Reportable Hours


Hours Spent on SAR Operations


Number of SAR Operations


Number of Agencies Inspected



Rescue Squad Office

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