On a July day at Lake Ore-be-gone in Gilbert last year, Bill Bronk spotted a child face-down in the water about 50 yards from shore.
"I saw him floating, and at first I thought it was just a kid being a kid," said Bronk, of Waterville, Minn. "When you go swimming, you look at the bottom of the pool, you look at the bottom of the lake. So that's what I thought."
The child was 6-year-old Caleb Simmonsen, and when Bronk realized Caleb wasn't coming up for air, he sprang into action. Bronk swam out and pulled Caleb to shore.
By the time he reached the beach, Hibbing teacher and former paramedic Jennifer Benedict was ready to begin CPR on the boy. Within seconds, Renae Krmpotich of Eveleth joined her, performing chest compressions as Benedict focused on respiration.
Virginia paramedics and Gilbert police soon arrived, and Caleb was flown to Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth.
Caleb was at the lake with his mother that day. The three adults were at the lake separately with their children.
Bronk, Benedict and Krmpotich were honored as St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman presented them with 911 Lifesaver Awards during the County Board meeting in Duluth on Tuesday.
In addition, Virginia firefighter paramedics Elizabeth Smith, Ross Grambling and Jon Carlson were honored, as were Police Chief Ty Techar, Lt. Tom Smith and officer Kevin Greene of the Gilbert Police Department.
Caleb, too — full of energy and still excited to swim — attended with his parents, Brett Simmonsen of Chisholm and Sasha Simmonsen of Eveleth.
The incident happened on a Friday, and by Monday, Caleb's breathing tube was removed. That was the day Benedict visited him in the hospital.
"The first thing he said was, 'I want to go out and play,'" she said Tuesday.
Saved from fire
Litman also honored a Hermantown man, his dog and an off-duty St. Louis County sheriff's deputy for their roles in getting a couple out of their burning home in May 2018.
Mick Aspin credits his 10-year-old mixed-breed dog, Dolly, for drawing his attention to smoke and flames coming from an attached garage at the home next door on Ugstad Road.
Aspin attempted to get into the home to warn its residents, Ron and Pat Skenzich. Meanwhile, off-duty sheriff's deputy Mark Phinney was driving by and stopped to help.
As Phinney called 911, Aspin was able to direct Ron Skenzich to the front door and eventually escorted the Skenziches and their dog, Toby, to safety. The home was a total loss.
The morning's final awards went to a Grand Lake Township man and the dispatcher who talked him through an effort to save his wife's life.
Paul Ochs called 911 in March 2018 after his wife, Mary, collapsed at their home and stopped breathing.
Emergency Communications Specialist Carmen Kimball helped talk Ochs through CPR while Ochs waited for first responders to arrive and helped him count so he could maintain the necessary chest compressions.
Mary Ochs died the next day, but the effort kept her alive long enough for her organs to be donated, saving other lives in the process, Litman said. The added time also gave the Ochs family time to gather at her side.
Tuesday's award was Kimball's third 911 Lifesaver award for her ability to give CPR instructions to 911 callers.
St. Louis County has given the 911 Lifesaver Awards each year since 1993, in connection with National Telecommunicators Week, April 14-20. The week recognizes people who perform call-taking, dispatch and other duties in service of public safety.
According to a county proclamation on Tuesday, the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office's 911 Emergency Communications Division answered nearly 217,000 calls in 2018. The county's dispatch center in Duluth covers all of the county's 7,092 square miles and links 180 public safety agencies.