Support from near and far leads to new vehicle for Wykoff First Responders

Jon Eickhoff are half of the Wykoff First Responders team, proud to be driving a newer vehicle while responding to emergency calls. Fundraising is underway to help pay for the truck. Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy/Spring Valley Tribune
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By Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Spring Valley Tribune

The Wykoff community is responding to the local First Responders crew with generous donations toward a new truck that is sorely needed to keep the service going.

“The old one was a 1994, and I believe the city got it in 1997.  We either needed pretty hefty upgrades or a newer one,” stated Wykoff First Responder crew captain Teresa Swenson, telling about the efforts to replace Wykoff’s aged former ambulance with a truck purchased from the Spring Grove Ambulance Service.

The First Responders took a chance on purchasing the unit as the city didn’t have the funds to purchase it outright. However, they have already received a significant amount of community donations that will keep the truck running for at least the next two years.

Crew member Jon Eickhoff discovered that the Spring Grove service — which is not a department of the city of Spring Grove because it serves people across the border in Iowa — needed a new truck to venture out onto the long gravel back roads and to deliver people from town to the nearest hospital.  He was chit-chatting with one of the firemen in Spring Grove, he said, when he found out about the replacement of a vehicle there, so he came back to share the information with the crew.  The crew members realized the city didn’t have the funds to do this and figured someone else would pick it up, but they decided to bring it to the City Council anyway to see how much support they would have. 

“The rural fire board held its meeting in January, about six weeks early, because Spring Grove had made us an offer we couldn’t resist,” said Eickhoff. “We realized that we weren’t going to be able to sell our truck for what we wanted, but after hearing what we had for equipment, Spring Grove basically said they’d hold it.” 

“They were gracious enough to let us purchase the vehicle because they wanted to see it used locally,” Swenson added.

The First Responders’ budget is managed by the city, so whenever the crew members need something, they have to come before the City Council.  Swenson related that the townships’ per-capita contribution stands at $3 per capita and the city allots about $500, totaling an average of $3,000 to cover one year’s equipment and supplies. 

“We do not bill any calls.  We don’t get much above and beyond running costs, and if we need anything, it comes out of the budget that has been in place since this was the ambulance service,” said Swenson.

Eickhoff elaborated that Wykoff’s First Responders were able to negotiate with the Spring Grove service to buy the used ambulance on a five-year lease-to-own contract to give the four-person crew time to raise the $20,000 price. 

“Two more years…we know we have it funded through 2020, because we’ve already raised $11,000 in donations,” he said. “I was surprised…we got to over $11,000, and I think the average donation has been about $50.” 

While the new-used ambulance was sold to Wykoff for $20,000, the fundraising goal on the thermometer sign posted outside the Wykoff fire hall has a top temperature, or dollar amount, of $25,000.  That’s because the crew needs up to an extra $5,000 to get it converted for use in Wykoff. It needed to be painted and, since it’s from a different county, it has a different radio platform. 

Donations are accepted at the Wykoff City Hall and the city clerk will direct checks made out to the Wykoff First Responders to the fund meant to pay for the newer vehicle. 

Eickhoff expressed his appreciation to the Spring Grove service: “If it wasn’t for the them, I don’t think we’d be doing anything.” 

Swenson concurred, remarking that she also feels that it’s the generosity of Wykoff’s residents that has made the difference. 

“I think this is a good way for the community to come together to help us out,” she said.

Wykoff’s First Responders are vital to the community’s health, according to Swenson, who recounted that the Wykoff Ambulance Service was decommissioned over a decade ago due to lack of funding and volunteers, and that the Responders fill the need for someone locally available to arrive while awaiting an ambulance crew from a nearby community. The Wykoff First Responders can’t transport unless it’s a last resort because it doesn’t have the proper license.

“Our purpose is to mitigate, assess and assist a patient with an emergency until the Spring Valley, Chatfield or Preston ambulance arrives,” said Eickhoff.

“It can be between one minute and 15 minutes, depending on what the weather’s like, and 15 minutes is a long wait…two minutes can be a long wait for someone,” added Swenson.     

Swenson has been a part of the crew for nearly five years, Eickhoff for approximately one year, Scott Gilsrud for about two years, and James Eickhoff, for nearly two decades.  The crew answers 15 to 20 calls a year, so the commitment isn’t the same as if one were to join an ambulance crew, but to offer a reassuring hand and voice to someone in crisis is important.  That’s why Swenson and the rest of the volunteers are always seeking more hands to be there when needed. 

“We will take anybody — they don’t have to have a medical background.  I have known people of all backgrounds who are First Responders,” said Swenson. “The training is about 40 hours, and they teach what we need to know to be a First Responder.  The nice thing about being a First Responder is that you can respond when you’re needed, but there are no dedicated hours, no minimum hours.  You respond when you can respond.  They can even be people who work in town…they can live somewhere else.  We’d definitely be willing to consider anyone who would be willing to join and who would be here in town a substantial amount of time.”   

For more information on becoming a First Responder, or to donate toward the Wykoff Responders’ truck fund, contact Swenson at 507-696-9291.  Donations may also be left with the city clerk’s office at City Hall, just south of the Wykoff fire station.          

Swenson said she appreciates the Spring Grove officials who made it possible for Wykoff to get a new truck as well as “all our family members for supporting us while we’re gone at training and calls, for their support of us, because we do miss birthday parties…the sacrifice isn’t just us.”