St. Louis County honors 15 for heroic acts in 2021
The Life Saver Awards issued Tuesday included residents, first responders, law enforcement and quick-thinking citizens.
DULUTH — It had been two years since the last time St. Louis County awarded its annual Life Saver Awards, so when Sheriff Ross Litman announced the winners Tuesday in Duluth, it also marked the last time he’d do so.
Litman is retiring at the conclusion of his term after 20 years as sheriff. He called it one of the first of his lasts, and seemed to relish the opportunity to highlight the work of 911 emergency communications workers, citizens, law enforcement officers and first responders.
“When the system works, we can save a life,” Litman said during the County Board meeting Tuesday.
The awards have been given out annually since 1993, missing 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Life Saver Awards honored 15 people involved in five separate incidents. The awards were given as part of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.
Among those honored:
Tim Rasmusson, Tyler McClellan, Cody Vredenburg and Matt Bade
The four men work for Lake Country Power and had been driving to a job site when they noticed a vehicle had gone into a water-filled ditch and overturned. The driver of that vehicle had called 911 and told emergency communications specialist Laura Vukmanich that her vehicle was sinking and she couldn’t get out.
The four men, along with another passerby, Niko Sarazine, tried initially to flip the vehicle over. When that didn’t work, Rasmussen ran to get a receiver hitch from their work truck while the others worked to hold the vehicle out of the water. The woman in the vehicle, Demi, was able to release the seat belt and climb toward the back of the vehicle. When Rasmussen returned, he used the hitch to break a window, through which Demi was able to crawl out. Rasmussen carried her back to the Lake Country Power truck, where she was able to warm up until the ambulance arrived.
Virginia firefighter Dustin Erickson nominated the men for the award, said a St. Louis County news release, saying that their efforts were “some of the more impactful acts” that he has seen. The incident happened Nov. 11, outside Cherry, Minnesota.
St. Louis County deputy Jacob Gargano; Grand Lake Fire Chief Grant Gimpel; LuAnn Skorich, wife of the patient; former St. Louis County Rescue Squad volunteer Alex Larson; and Sarah Kemp, 911 emergency communications specialist
When Skorich, a retired nurse, discovered her husband, Dan, wasn’t breathing, she immediately performed the Heimlich maneuver, thinking he was choking. When that didn’t help, she began performing CPR.
She also called 911 and was aware enough to unlock the door to her home. Even though she’d routinely performed emergency CPR during her career, the realization that she was having to do this alone, for her husband, was overwhelming, said a St. Louis County news release.
From the time that Skorich called 911 until first responders arrived on scene, Kemp stayed on the line, reassuring Skorich that she was doing a good job, to keep going, and provided updates as to when help would arrive. When professionals arrived, bringing medical equipment inside, they took over with CPR efforts. They even shoveled the walkway for the Mayo Ambulance. Working together as a team, the group saved the life of Dan Skorich. The incident happened Jan. 16, 2021, in Grand Lake.
Robert and Casley Nagengast
The couple had been boating on Elbow Lake near Orr on April 22, looking for vacation property. Casley noticed what initially looked like buoys reflecting the sun. But after looking more closely they discovered it was an overturned canoe. They then noticed debris floating in the water, and a man hanging onto the keel and motor of the overturned vessel.
The couple worked to pull the man, Kyle Westrick, into their boat. Westrick was stiff and largely unresponsive. It was later determined he’d been in the chilly water up to two hours, remaining afloat thanks to his life jacket.
Coincidentally, he, too, had been looking at properties that day.
The Nagengasts were able to pull Westrick into their boat and then began looking for help.
There was no cell service, so they attempted to signal SOS with their boat’s air horn as they headed back toward the Elbow Lake Lodge, an approximately 10-minute trip.
There was no one else on the lake or at the lodge, so they continued on to the public landing, where after several unsuccessful attempts to call 911, they were finally able to report the emergency. Casley left the landing to find better cellphone service. Robert, who’d injured himself by straining his back, worked to warm up the man.
“Robert, Casley and Kyle found themselves in a lifechanging event that day in April,” Litman said. “That incident exemplifies what it truly means to save a life and, just as importantly, appreciate every day that we are given. Kyle is appreciative of the Nagenagasts and thanks them for giving him his ‘bonus’ time.”
On Sept. 16, Groom was driving down Grant Avenue in Eveleth when she noticed a woman with a baby who was choking. Groom made a U-turn and stopped to see how she could help.
The mother, Shannon, said she and her three children had been at home when the baby, 11-month-old Willow, began choking. Shannon grabbed her daughter and ran outside to the nearby Jon’s Drugstore, in hopes of finding someone to help.
Inside the store, Groom took Willow from Shannon’s arms and quickly gave five or six back thrusts to the child’s limp body.
As the Eveleth Ambulance was arriving, Willow had started to exchange air and was crying as responders took her into the ambulance.
St. Louis County deputy Gavin Nichols and Nicholas Grivna, a Virginia police officer
During the morning of Feb. 28, 2021, a fire broke out in a multi-unit apartment building in Virginia. Grivna and Nichols were among several law enforcement officers who responded.
Large flames and heavy smoke were visible from the rear of the building. As fire crews from several area fire departments began searching the building, Grivna and Nichols learned that a tenant may still be in a corner of the building, near an area of heavy fire.
The two were able to break a window to the apartment and successfully pull the woman out of the building through the window.
During the hours-long incident, several responders were treated for minor injuries, and nine residents were displaced from the building. The actions of the law enforcement officers, as well as the numerous first responders on the scene, prevented the loss of any life that morning.
Regarding the heroism displayed by the award winners, Commissioner Keith Nelson said. "It is not as uncommon as we think it is. It is truly a piece of our community that everybody should be proud of. … The truth is, this community steps up."