First Responders on path to success after rough times

BY Sarah Hubbard First Response & Rescue, Inc. has come roaring back to life years after an embezzlement scandal almost did it in. At 600 calls last year and still counting, the First Responders are the bu...

First Responders
Terry Long, at left, and Bucky Johnson stand by the newly purchased trailer in the First Response & Rescue, Inc. garage. The squad has paid off its mortgage and is now raising money for other things that will enhance its mission. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

BY Sarah smith

Hubbard First Response & Rescue, Inc. has come roaring back to life years after an embezzlement scandal almost did it in.
At 600 calls last year and still counting, the First Responders are the busiest non-ambulance response squad in the state of Minnesota.
The squad of 22 volunteers has paid off its building, across the street from the North Memorial ambulance headquarters in Park Rapids, paid for many amenities to the former Belle Taine Glass building, and is starting to plan for the future.
The squad purchased a new trailer to haul equipment around in.
It was recently used on Island Lake when a crash was heard and it was thought that a night fisherman had gone through the ice. He didn’t, but the Park Rapids Fire Department and Hubbard County Sheriff’s Department have keys to the building just in case those squads need to use any of the rescue equipment.
The First Responders are eyeing either a new building or revamping their current headquarters for a training center, one that can be used to conduct CPR classes for the public and training exercises for regional responders.
But they’re not like kids in the candy store, responders Bucky Johnson and Terry Long pointed out.
The lean days, when a former employee embezzled thousands of dollars, are too fresh for them to splurge, the men said.
One thing that reversed their fortunes was a gun calendar, now in its third year. The calendars are sold for a chance at winning a firearm.
But not everyone wants a gun, which are donated at cost by Delaney’s Sports Center, Smokey Hills Outdoors Store and other wildlife outfitters.
The stores have been gracious in redeeming gun vouchers for other merchandise, Johnson said.
The calendars, at $40 apiece, helped pay off the $120,000 mortgage. The third year calendar will go on sale this spring.
Long and Johnson believe they’ll have a five-year run of calendars. Then the fad will have grown weary and they’ll go on to other fundraising activities. Johnson said.
“A lot of our out-of-towners and summer residents have supported us,” Long said of the calendar sales and contributions.
Because of some minor backlash from townships, the bylaws were changed so township funds go strictly to training and equipment, Johnson said, not to pay off the mortgage. Volunteers get no pay, and don’t even get mileage reimbursed, Johnson added.
But the squad will soon have shirts, paid for by calendar proceeds. A conference room with tables and chairs is now fully functional, but the furnishings can be moved around for several needs.
They’re proceeding cautiously for the future. There are a lot of needs.
“Our first goal was to pay off the building,” Johnson said. “We still have a lot of needs. Our snowmobiles are 17-18 years old. Stuff gets tired after a while.”
The squad could use more rescue equipment, sleds and ATVs to retrieve people lost or hurt in the woods.
“Every time you do something, you see more need,” Johnson said.
“Figuring out how to move people around, get equipment to them” is a chronic issue.
And the squad is adamant about sharing the equipment with other squads.
Turnout has been a godsend, the men said.
“You can get 15 people in a heartbeat” to turn out for an emergency, Johnson said.
And that’s helped in times when equipment could not reach injured or lost persons.
“You need a set of eyeballs and a pair of legs,” Johnson said.
A donated hovercraft went to the Nevis Fire Department after an ice rescue a few years ago. But the swampy terrain and thin ice still pose challenges, the men said.
On their wish list is maybe a big airboat. Hovercraft vehicles are a maintenance nightmare and they don’t go over swampy terrain, Long said.
“We’re going to slowly acquire stuff for the future,” Long said. “You don’t want fancy toys to pull around” if they don’t assist a rescue operation.
The squad bought a high efficiency gas furnace to heat the building after getting bills for the in-floor heating system - $600 per month.
In February, one garage will be cleared out to hold Girl Scout cookies for Park Rapids and Menahga.
“We’re here to make a difference,” Long said. “We want things that are going to be functional.”
The squad has donated to the Food Shelf and is not opposed to buying good used equipment.
But sometimes the state’s gaming laws and dealing with used equipment parts restrict what can be purchased and what is traded in.
Trade-in value of used equipment is pretty much worthless, Johnson said.
A training center tops the list of ideas. For now, the building is loaned out for various groups to use the conference hall, including the upcoming snowmobile race committees.
But the future is rosy for the volunteers, who meet monthly to assess their needs. And, like any well run business, they don’t want to blow their money on toys.

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