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)   125
Number of Subjects 130  
Plane Crashes 1  
Rope Rescue Operations 5*  
Water Operations   77
Water Fatalities10 10  
“Saves” 22  
Vehicle Accidents (10-50;10-52;10-54)   139
Extrications Performed 2  
Aircraft Landing Zones set up by Rescue Squad Personnel 8  
Medical and Miscellaneous
Medical Calls   26
Miscellaneous (Deputy and Fire Assists, etc.)   37
Major Storm Response Operations   1
Total Number of Operations in 2018: 405

* Denotes record 

Rescue Squad members volunteered a total of 24,515 hours in 2018.

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 overall total of 125 includes 73 searches (69 for people; 4 for evidence), 46 wilderness rescues (including 22 snowmobile and ATV accidents), and 5 rope rescue operations.  This total ties with 2017 for second-highest in our history, eclipsed only by 2016’s total of 144.


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 130 is third-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 60-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 2018 total of 77 is fourth-highest in our history.  The record is 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 7.5.  There were 7 “in-county” recoveries, as well as 3 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 22 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 60-year history due to changes in dispatch protocols, as well as the evolving role of field care providers.  The total of 139 is typical in the era of 911-Dispatch and auto-page protocols. 


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.)  Two extrications is below average—we historically perform 12-16, but lower numbers reflect an emerging trend as more rural fire departments obtain extrication tools. However, we’ve already exceeded last year’s total in 2019. 


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 2018 total of 8 LZ’s is on the low end of 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 2018 total of 26 is on the low end of normal.


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. 


Major Storm Response – The Rescue Squad mobilized once in 2018 for a major storm event to check on homes and cabins, clear trees and debris, direct traffic, and provide CP support. 


Call Volume – Total call volume for the year was 405, our third consecutive year above 400.  Our all-time record is 437, set in 2016.


Boat & Water Safety Statistics


Number of Volunteers


Other Training

(Certified Swiftwater Tech)


Radio Equipped Boats

100% B&W Safety Use


Non-Radio Equipped Boats

100% B&W Safety Use


Number of Other Vehicles

Trucks/ATVs, 60% B&W


Total Volunteer Reportable Hours


Percentage of B&W Hours on Water



Hours Spent on SAR Operations


Number of SAR Operations


Number of Agencies Inspected


Number of Rental Boats Inspected


Number of Talks or Classes Given


Number of B&W Displays



Rescue Squad Office

All contacts