HIBBING — Life Link III’s open house Thursday evening honored crucial members of the emergency response family — law enforcement officers.
And some very special members of the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office stole the show at the sixth annual event, held inside the hangar at Life Link III’s air ambulance base in Hibbing.
They demonstrated their skills at taking down criminals. The showed off their great power, strength and speed.
And when all was complete, they wagged their tails.
The friendliest of the bunch even accepted pets and offered a few select face licks to those gathered around to take their photos and meet the notable patrol members.
The County Sheriff’s K-9 dogs always draw much attention. They are dogs, after all.
But, “the dogs are working dogs. They are trained for a specific purpose,” said Adam Metsa, of the Virginia Fire Department, who specializes in K-9 casualty care. The canines definitely have both bark and bite.
The open house, attended fire/EMS and law enforcement personnel from throughout the area, was one of Life Link III’s LinkED presentations, which aim to offer education and strengthen the links of EMS in the region.
With the evening focused on law enforcement and patrol dogs, Metsa talked about K-9 casualty care and ways to treat injured canines. K-9 officers are often in high-risk environments and face the threat of becoming seriously wounded on the job.
Hanna Thompson, Life Link III flight paramedic with the Hibbing base, organized the event.
“When the time came to start planning this year’s open house, I had no idea what to have as a topic,” she said. “But after talking with some of my colleagues and seeing what is happening in society, it became clear what tonight should be about. We wanted to show support to law enforcement.
“Law enforcement personnel are constantly in the public eye, and it is such a thankless profession. These men and women are our brothers and sisters, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, and let’s not forget, our companions. They work tirelessly day in and day out to protect us and keep us safe,” Thompson said.
“They see things that no one should have to see and have to make split-second decisions that will change lives forever, including their own. They are the thin blue line — that separates right from wrong, love from hate and light from the darkness. Because of that I am forever thankful.”
Law enforcement, EMS and fire “are all one team,” she added. “And because of that, I truly believe that we need to stand together as one. We need to continue to support, encourage and uplift each other, and by doing that, maybe we can make the thin blue line a little wider.”
The St. Louis County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit consists of four patrol dog/handler teams, said Sgt. Wayne Toewe, who was there with his K-9, Roscoe, a German shepherd who is trained in narcotics detection and tracking to find people, apprehend criminals and recover evidence.
Toewe and Roscoe serve the Iron Range, along with Dep. Tim Officer and K-9, Louie, also a German shepherd trained in those areas.
Also at the event were the Office’s Duluth teams — Dep. Ben Fye and K-9 Diesel, a 3-year-old black German shepherd, and Sgt. Brandon Siljord and K-9 Kilo, a German shepherd who is credited with seizing more than $5,000 in drug money and locating large amounts of narcotics.
Roscoe, Diesel and Kilo and their handlers — with the assistance of Dep. Marty Thorne, suited in special protective gear and often referred to as the “K-9 bite toy” — demonstrated various tactics used to apprehend “the bad guys.”
Toewe, who has been a K-9 handler for 12 years, also talked about the ways patrol dogs perform their duties.
First of all, he said, “they are a deterrent. Their size, their bark — they are a physical deterrent.”
K-9 teams often work night shifts, “when more of the bad stuff happens,” he said. Not only are the dogs much quicker at chasing down criminals — they have been clocked at running up to 25 miles per hour — but they also have much better night vision.
Not to mention, canines have a far greater sense of smell than humans, making them excellent at sniffing out drugs and tracking individuals by scent.
Each person has an unique chemical makeup, which the dogs can differentiate, Toewe said. When a person moves, “dead skin cells fall off and trail behind you,” he said, likening it to the Peanuts character, Pig Pen. “That’s kind of what people look like” to a dog.
K-9s are able to follow that trail. Additionally, when a criminal is on foot, vegetation gets broken, creating “a depression pocket,” he said. The person’s “scent drops into it,” further leading the dog on that track.
The Office’s K-9s are trained in four basic narcotics scents — marijuana, heroin, meth and cocaine. Training consists of “making it a game” by coating toys and balls with those smells. When a dog is searching for narcotics, the K-9 “is looking for their ball,” Toewe said.
While most dogs get excited when they know they are going to play fetch, he noted, “our dogs get excited when we say, ‘Go find some dope!’”
Open house attendees also had the opportunity to tour Life Link III’s base, take a look inside the helicopter and at the medical equipment used on board, and chat with the crew.
The event was catered by the Sportsmen’s Cafe of Hibbing. The evening included a free raffle drawing, with a top prize of registration to the upcoming Trauma Tactics 2016 conference in St. Cloud, which was won by Kristina Anderson, who works with Project Care in Hibbing.
“I’m stunned,” she said of the prize. “This is like a poor girl on the wrong side of the tracks getting to go Christmas shopping at Macy’s. This is some of the best training and networking. It’s so encouraging to be with other people.”
Life Link III also presented the K-9 teams with challenge coins.
The coins read, in part: “Trust in me, my friend, for I am your comrade. I will protect you with my last breath. When all others have left you and the loneliness of the night closes in, I will be at your side. Together we will conquer all obstacles and search out those whom might wish harm to others. All I ask of you is compassion, the caring touch of your hands. It is for you that I will unselfishly give my life and spend my nights unrested...
“And when our time together is done and you move on in this world, remember me with kind thoughts and tales, for a time we were unbeatable. Nothing passes among us undetected. If we should meet again on another street, I will gladly take up your fight. I am a Police Working K-9, and together we are guardians of the night.”
And, of course, the special patrol members were not forgotten, either. Each received a Kong chew toy.