Sheriff presents annual 911 Lifesaver Awards

Caleb Simmonsen is surrounded by St. Louis County leaders and the people who rescued him. Shown L-R are (kneeling) Commissioner Patrick Boyle, Caleb, Commissioner Keith Nelson, County Administrator Kevin Gray. (Standing) Ross Gramling, Virginia Fire Dept; Commissioner Frank Jewell; Elizabeth Smith, Virginia Fire Dept; County Attorney Mark Rubin; William Bronk, who pulled Caleb from the water; Commissioner Mike Jugovich; Sheriff Ross Litman; Commissioner Paul McDonald; Renae Krmpotich, who assisted with CPR; Commissioner Beth Olson; Jennifer Lynn Benedict, a former paramedic who began CPR on Caleb; Jon Carlson, Virginia Fire Dept; Auditor Nancy Nilson; and Gilbert Police Lt. Tom Smith. Not pictured are Gilbert Police Officers Ty Techar and Kevin Greene. Submitted

St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman today recognized the life saving responses of citizens, law enforcement, other first responders and 911 emergency communications specialists as he presented 911 Lifesaver Awards to the people involved in three separate incidents.

The awards are given each year as part of National Telecommunicator’s Week, and were presented during today’s County Board meeting in Duluth.

Among those honored are a team of people who came together to save the life of six-year-old Caleb Simmonsen, who nearly drowned in Lake Ore-Be-Gone in Gilbert last July. William Bronk, a former lifeguard and swim instructor happened to be at the beach and noticed the boy floating motionless in waist deep water. Bronk quickly brought the boy to shore where he was met by a Jennifer Benedict, who happens to be a former paramedic. She immediately started CPR.

Meanwhile, another woman, Renae Krmpotich, who had just arrived at the beach to pick up her sons, saw the commotion and ran to help with the CPR. Shortly after the calls to 911 were placed, Gilbert Police Chief Ty Techar arrived on scene to assist with life-saving efforts while Lt. Tom Smith and Officer Kevin Greene secured the scene for the Virginia Ambulance and the North Air Care helicopter that had also been dispatched.

Upon their arrival Virginia Fire Department Paramedics Ross Gramling, Elizabeth Smith, and Jon Carlson, confirmed that Caleb had a pulse but was not yet breathing effectively. After transferring Caleb into the Virginia ambulance, paramedics continued to treat Caleb, and through their continued efforts, they were able to watch as Caleb began to breathe on his own. Also assisting in this incident were the Gilbert Fire Department and First Responders, St Louis County Sheriff’s Office, and North Memorial Air Care Air Ambulance.

The second award was presented to a Hermantown man and his dog, as well as an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, who together saved an elderly couple from a house fire in May of 2018.

Mick Aspin said it was his dog, Dolly, who first noticed the smoke and flames coming from the attached garage on their neighbor’s home. When Aspin went looking for the dog, he saw what was going on and went over to help. At the same time, an off-duty (now retired) St. Louis County Sheriff’s Deputy, Mark Phinney, happened to to be driving by and stopped. The men first tried finding an unlocked door.

When that didn’t work, Aspin tried kicking in the front door. The noise was enough to get the attention of the homeowner, Ron Skenzich, who’d been unaware of the fire. As Phinney called 911, Aspin was able to help both Ron and his wife, Pat, who’d fallen inside, to get safely out of the house. He then went back inside to rescue the Skenzich’s dog, Toby.

The home was destroyed in the fire, but the Skenzichs and their dog all escaped without injury.

The third award was given to 911 Emergency Communications Specialist Carmen Kimball, and to Paul Ochs of Grand Lake Township. Ochs had called 911 in March of last year after his wife, Mari, collapsed and stopped breathing.

Kimball provided Ochs with instructions by phone – to position Mari on her back and how to provide CPR. This continued for 10 minutes while waiting for first responders to arrive. Kimball even assisted with counting so that Ochs could maintain the necessary rate of compressions.

Sadly, Mari Ochs passed away the next day. But thanks to the teamwork of Paul Ochs and Carmen Kimball, Mari’s loved ones had time to gather at her side. Additionally, her organs were able to be donated, saving the lives of others.

For Kimball, this is the third time she’s been honored for her ability to provide CPR instructions to people who have called 911.

Since 1993, St. Louis County has recognized the efforts of those individuals who have worked together, often risking their own safety, to save others. The 911 Life Saver Award honors those worthy of such recognition, but also serves to educate the public on how the County’s 911 system works.