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Minnesota's only air rescue team gets $18 million from transportation law

The Minnesota Air Rescue Team is a partnership between the Minnesota State Patrol Aviation Division and the St. Paul Fire Department Advanced Technical Rescue Team.

ST PAUL, Minn. — From a raging river to the top of a wind turbine, rescuing someone from such a precarious spot takes highly skilled people.

In Minnesota, those people are part of the Minnesota Air Rescue Team (MART). It's a cooperative effort between the Minnesota State Patrol Aviation Division and the Saint Paul Fire Department Advanced Technical Rescue Team. 

It was relaunched in 2011 and is the only rescue group of its kind in the upper Midwest. St. Paul firefighter Mike Aspnes said the decision was a no-brainer.

"The right people were in the right position to advocate for the program and recognize its utility, and once we recognized what we had, we just kept driving forward," said Aspnes. 

They'll make up to 60 rescues a year - from forests along the northern border to window washers and families stuck on snow-packed hiking trails.  

"We'll try anything, we'll assess anything and give it a shot," said pilot Jim Englin, who has flown helicopters for nearly two decades. He's one of just four who fly for the State Patrol. 

The elite group is also made up of just 20 firefighters out of the 400 -- some in St. Paul's department.  

"Not everybody has that and not everybody is going to be born with that so you train that into you and it’s a lot of responsibility," said Englin. "There's nothing else that you're focused on except for the person on the bottom of the line."

The group trains about three times a month.

The training, equipment and fuel cost about $317,000 a year, which is funded through a grant. 

This year, though, State Patrol was provided $18 million when Governor Walz signed the transportation bill into law. It will pay for four new pilot positions, an airplane and a helicopter that, like the Coast Guard, can hoist people, rather than just lift them free. 

"That will expand our capabilities into nighttime rescues which will really add to our repertoire," said Englin. "You just do one rescue and you realize it's all worth it."

Englin said it will be about two years before the new helicopter is in service and rescuers are trained to use it. 

If you need help, a response from the team is free of charge and available by calling the State Duty Officer at 800-422-0798 or 651-649-5451.


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