In many ways, it’s hard  to beat living in Minnesota’s beautiful lakes and woods region, far from the hectic, fast-paced world of the 21st century.

But often people find that the very things that drew them to live on a beautiful lake or deep in the woods can be a problem when an emergency occurs.

And when a community finds a way to respond to and address this problem, it’s often thanks to volunteers who step up to help their neighbors, even ones they don’t really know.

Hackensack, located in north central Cass County, with “127 lakes within a 10-mile radius” is one of those communities.

There are no hospitals in Cass County; five hospitals in adjacent counties are each an hour’s drive from the Hackensack  area, which makes it a challenge to get someone to the hospital within the first critical “Golden Hour.”

That makes the 27-member Hackensack Fire and Rescue Department vital to the health and safety of Hackensack area residents and their property.

From a ragtag group that started in the mid-1970s as a volunteer snowmobile rescue team, the department has evolved into a professional unit that prides itself on being “the best that we can be.”

Members undergo hundreds of hours of extensive (and expensive) training and continuing education to remain certified and to keep abreast of new technology, equipment and procedures.

Until 2005 the Hackensack Fire Department and Hackensack First Response Team were separate units. The merger of the two was a momentous event, because now the EMT volunteers are covered by the same insurance firefighters have (disability/dismemberment, loss  of life benefits, training reimbursements and service pension).

This also meant that the combined department now had many women members. At first they were all emergency medical technicians (EMT), emergency medical responders (EMR) or paramedics. But as the years went on, several women trained as firefighters; and several male firefighters became EMRs. Currently three women are firefighters and seven men have cross-trained as EMRs.

Dawn Peterson has been an EMT since 1986 and has seen how things have changed.

“All emergency services nationwide that depend on volunteers are struggling,” she says. “Lives are changing. In families, both parents usually work; and there’s not the same mindset as before of ‘What can I do for my community?’”

Family ties play a big role in keeping Hackensack Fire and Rescue at full strength, notably for its nine female members.

Dawn has been an EMT for over three decades and her husband, Tony, is fire chief. Their daughter Donnea is an EMT, and two sons, Gavin and Dane, are third generation firefighters.

“I wanted to join because mom was always taking me with her on EMT runs when I was young,” Donnea explains.

“Donnea did her first CPR at age 13 when we were out on a call,” mom Dawn adds.

Carlie Bray is both an EMR and a firefighter, also third generation, following in the footsteps of her firefighter father and grandfather.

Nicky Huewe, a paramedic since 2008, is married to Brian, a certified paramedic although not currently employed in that capacity.

“I was always interested in being an EMT or paramedic,” Nicky recalls. “At age 8 my sister was killed in an ATV crash, and I thought there should’ve been something we could have done.” A few years later that interest grew as she watched an ambulance crew help her grandfather, who had suffered a stroke, and the crew called on Nicky to communicate with him.

EMT Amanda Harding’s husband Jeremy was already a firefighter. “He spent a lot of time here [at the fire hall], so I thought, ‘Why not me?’”

Lee-Ann Marchwick, EMT/firefighter, is married to Jason, another firefighter.

Amy Remer is another EMT/firefighter, with firefighter husband Al.

Other women EMTs are Angela Johnson and Sara Roden.

Hackensack Fire and Rescue responds to about 250 EMT calls a year and about 30 fires. All members have pagers and “active 911” on their phones. Hackensack gets ambulance service from North Memorial Ambulance located in Walker, Longville and Pine River, as well as two Medivac helicopter services.

How time-consuming this “volunteer job” can be varies. There are regular monthly meetings and training sessions. Every two years, EMTs and paramedics need to renew their licenses with 48 hours of continuing education. Firefighters need to take 72 hours of training every three years to keep up on the latest techniques and practice emergency simulations.

When asked whether they feel women bring anything special to their roles as EMTs and firefighters, several agreed they do.

“Women are nurturing.”

“They can make people feel more comfortable in crisis situations.”

“They’re better able to calm families.”

“It’s the motherly touch.”

Half an hour into this interview, the real world intrudes as pagers begin to buzz loudly around the room. What is it? A medical call. Where? Longville area. Who’s going? Four women head for the door. Gather equipment. They’re on their way.

Soon, someone somewhere in the Longville area will be very relieved to see members of the Hackensack Fire and Rescue Department pull up in front of their home.


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