Windemere Twp. has large, healthy fund balance,

king-sized road issues

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Windemere Township is the second largest township by population in Pine County. It has the second most miles of roads - tar and gravel - and a large fund balance. It also has projects and problems to match its size.
The town board met last Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, for their regular monthly meeting. Residents were updated on several pieces of township business including road repair and the township’s first audit.
Palon Road has been a problem road and the topic of discussion for many months. The board said there was a meeting on Oct. 22, 2018 to discuss it and other roads, including Sturgeon Island Road and Harmony Lane.
Weather has delayed work on Palon Road. The road project was also reviewed at the October regular meeting and noted in the minutes.
One resident of the township, Vern Anderson, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. He said work is being “undone” on Palon Road which was done by Windemere Township.
Supervisor John Wesley said he hadn’t heard anything about that.
Seven to eight truck-loads a day are being hauled away and taken to a pit, Anderson added. He said the material wasn’t put in deep enough and the road sank.
Dale Sandberg, from Sandberg Trucking said they were digging out about 800 feet. He said they had to cut down into the road “a couple feet.” Two trucks were used to haul on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday of the previous week until 3 p.m. Sandberg said they put in 28 hours hauling with the two trucks. Sandberg is being subcontracted to do hauling work on the project by Casper Construction.
Tom, Casper Construction’s project manager, was contacted by PiCK News to verify the project bid. He said Casper’s bid was $784,500 on the Palon Road project and they were completing the project according to the township engineer’s specs and plans.
No township employees have been subcontracted by Casper.
In addition to the project bid, township employees have been working on Palon Road. A document listing vendors pay and employees wages, retirement and FICA was produced for July through September of 2018 and showed $87,992 had been paid to township road crew employees. The document stated that most of those employees worked exclusively on Palon Road and some worked on normal summer projects.
Township employee, Mike Buetow, is the township’s road maintenance manager and was listed as receiving wages during July through September. Buetow Trucking and Excavating was one of the Palon Road vendors on the list. They were paid $11,542.50 for work done on Palon Road.
Windemere Township Chairman Pete Steen is overseeing the project was the answer to one resident’s question concerning which board member was the road supervisor.
Resident Delores Gochowski asked, “When did Supervisor Dale Kirkeby lose his job as road supervisor? He is the one with road construction experience.”
“We decided that I would be the road supervisor,” Steen said.
The board decided they would set a meeting to discuss Palon Road, but there was no mention of a date by the end of the Nov. 8, 2018 meeting.
The Windemere Township website notes there will be a special meeting on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, at 11 a.m., to discuss Palon Road.
Audit notes
Recommendations from the audit included controlling the amount of money in the township’s checking account, which Treasurer Ron Mossberg told the board was at $1 million. The township will be receiving the second half of the levy soon, $325,000.
Mossberg asked that the board move $400,000 from the checking account into investment funds, since road repair was nearly complete for the year.
He also asked the board to move $116,000 from the the fire fund and $36,000 from the environmental fund to the general fund, also an audit recommendation. The board approved both recommendations.
Mossberg encouraged department heads to use the draft budget they created and to stay under $1 million next year. He said it’s the beginning of monitoring a 5-year cash flow of what the township buys and spends.
Advisory committee
Supervisors asked if residents were in favor of forming an advisory committee to bring township issues to the board. They would be chosen by and account directly to the board.
Resident Cindy Carlson said, “It sounds to me like you’re abdicating your duties as a board.”
She said the town board has no executive director and too many details have been lost. She added, the auditor’s recommendations are doable and there should be “some vetting” about who can bring what to the committee.
She said admitting there is a lot to do is a good thing and it shows signs of growing pains.
“When you give away something, it’s hard to get it back,” she reminded the board.

Grassroots officials want assurances county won't back out on opt-in zoning ordinance

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Pine County Board approved a comprehensive plan in 2017 and scheduled a meeting Friday, March 16, 2018, to discuss implementing the plan.
Throughout the comprehensive plan document were references to countywide zoning. Township officers and residents reacted negatively to a countywide zoning plan when it was introduced at a local government meeting early in January last year. It has been a topic of discussion at every joint meeting since.
Nine supervisors and residents from different townships attended last week’s 9:30 a.m. meeting. The board received responses by email from Anna and Wilma Townships who voiced opposition to countywide zoning.
Pine County’s Planning, Zoning and Solid Waste Department created four zoning options for the board. They were asking the board to choose option they would begin designing.
Option 1 - Do nothing.
Option 2 -  Create a land use ordinance that only addresses major land uses less suitable for township zoning such as gravel and solar similar to the shoreline, floodplain and subdivision ordinances. Townships continue general building permitting and land use regulation.
Option 3 - County creates a zoning ordnance which townships can opt-in to.
Option 4 - County creates a traditional zoning ordinance.
Dan O’Flanagan, Chairman of Dell Grove Township, said, “We don’t want county-wide zoning. I don’t think we should have to do this.”
O’Flanagan said their board keeps the township fees low. If the county did anything they would want to be able to choose whether they want the county’s package for zoning, he added.
Hallan said if the county did anything with zoning it would be an opt-in program. He said people see zoning as government overreach but then they want help “after the fact.”
The example he used was Finlayson Township’s construction debris dump. They asked for help and Hallan said the county had no zoning authority there. Countywide zoning is about protection, Hallan added.
Sandstone Township Chairman Keith Carlson asked about the county’s interest in controlling gravel resources. He said when the county gets involved with gravel, fees go up.
Kelly Schroeder, County Assessor, Solid Waste and Zoning Administrator, said a county zoning ordinance protects the county from liability. The plan is to design the ordinance with zones and each zone would have their own set of regulations.
County resident Darrell Jensen commented on blight which was addressed in the comprehensive plan. He said if someone has a line of old tractors in their yard, it’s different than a place with junk all over.
Sandstone Township Supervisor Gary Hinsch said blight is different when you get out of the Pine City area and up north into the country. “Up north, they don’t even know what blight is. We have stuff sitting out in the country waiting for the price of scrap steel to go up.”
Hallan talked about the change in farming land when farmers quitting their farming business and begin a start-up businesses in an agricultural area.
County Administrator David Minke commented that Option 3 seemed to be a preference and that he would have Schroeder and Caleb Anderson, Land and Zoning Resource Manager, “put some language together” for that option. “I think we need milestones,” he added.
Hinsch asked for a guarantee from the board if they went forward with zoning that it would be on an opt-in and opt-out basis.
“I could say the five people on the board could guarantee it,” Hallan said. He could not guarantee the boards after would adhere to that plan.
Minke said, “There is no desire to force zoning on townships that don’t want it.”
Town boards would have to have an opt-in ordinance to accept the county’s zoning ordinance for its district, Hallan explained. With this plan they can opt-out once they are in.
The newly formed county zoning board had several responses to the zoning options which included that townships ordinances should need to be as restrictive as the county’s.
One of the questions that was presented to the commissioners at the meeting was how a county-wide zoning ordinance would not take precedence over a less restrictive township ordinance.
In other ordinances, whichever is more restrictive - the state’s, the county’s or the township’s - the most restrictive ordinance is law.
Lauren Bethke, is an attorney with the state Office of the Revisor of Statutes which drafts laws in the area of Metro and Local Government; Property Taxes; Local Government Aid; Health-Related Licensing Boards; Children. She talked to the Pioneer and said she was not familiar with an opt-in opt-out zoning ordinance ever being done.
She said her job is to draft the laws not to enforce them.
Pine County Attorney Reese Fredrickson said Sherburne County may have attempted such an ordinance. He did not see in the state statute where an opt-in/opt-out would be prohibited.
According to the 2016 survey by the Minnesota Association of County Planning and Zoning Administrators, 56 of Minnesota’s 87 counties enforce some sort of countywide zoning.

Carlson in junior year has managed college with no debt

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Paying for a college education can mean a lifetime of debt for students.
College graduates beginning their working career at age 22 can be saddled with student loans on average of $100,000. The pressure to begin paying off the debt can be the difference between taking the first job that comes along after graduation or waiting for the best job offer.
Tuition and fees, room, board and books can cost $22,000 per year at a state college and $43,000 at a private institution. Students attending public universities out-of-state can expect to pay $25,000 per year.
Anna Carlson, the oldest of four children, did not want to take on college debt and she did not want her parents to be burdened with college tuition. Her mindset may be different than most people her age concerning her parents’ role in her continuing education.
“It shouldn’t fall on them to pay for everything,” she said.
Anna, like two-thirds of the population in Pine County, does not live in town. She lives on a farm in rural Pine County.
The 20-year-old college junior, the oldest of four children, is registered at South Dakota State University, in Brookings.
What’s unique is she has no college debt.
She took advantage of the post secondary education option (PSEO) offered at her high school during her junior and senior years. It is a program which gives students the opportunity to take college classes during high school at no additional cost.
She accumulated 25 college credits through her PSEO classes, the equivalent of nearly a year of college.
Anna is a caretaker for her grandmother, who is 97. She lives with her and takes care of her needs. She also is a ranch hand on her father’s farm. She is paid for the work she performs whether it’s shoveling manure, feeding animals, milking cows, making fence or vaccinating animals.
To date, Anna has spent about $10,000 on her education. When she gets paid, she registers for classes. She considers her work on the farm as on-the-job training and hopes to partner with her dad when her education is complete.
She is working toward a general bachelor’s degree. Her studies are directed toward agricultural classes and finance so she can learn to run a farming operation effectively, efficiently and profitably.
PSEO is where she started. She also attended Pine Technical College for two fall semesters.
She can choose where she wants to get her credits and has taken some more challenging classes offered online by Northwestern University. Northwestern has higher standards and she feels she is getting more for her educational dollar. Anna has also taken classes online from Lake Superior Community College, concentrating her credits in social studies, agriculture and business.
Classes such as biology, which have lab experiments, are not excluded for students taking classes online. Lab kits are sent to students who sign up for the classes, she explained.
Books are very expensive. Anna has found she can purchase used books through Amazon and she also has a Prime account which gives her free shipping. The company offers this service at no charge to students.
“Im a morning person,” Anna said. This works well for her when it comes to her job and school.
She’s up at 5 a.m., studies for a couple hours and then, she said, “I start my day.”
She is mastering the challenges of being an online student in rural Minnesota. She has a data package with a provider which also gives her free data from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. It fits her schedule.
She takes the summer off so she can work as much as possible. Then she takes three or four classes in the fall. After the time off, Anna said she is ready to go back.
There are pros and cons to her method of education. One of the cons is her friends are away at college and the others are married. Even though she considers herself an introvert, she misses these connections.
If she could make any changes to her education plan, Anna said she would have a nine-to-five job so it would be easier to plan her study time, work time and personal time. She would also like to carve out more time to apply for scholarships.
Anna says she is “learning a lot.” Working with her dad is like job shadowing. She gets to ask questions as she works.
“I get the book smarts from college and the practical knowledge from dad. Almost like getting two educations in one.”

Obeys fight to keep land, county threatens eminent domain if no access agreement reached

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Pine County wants to gain access to the County Memorial Forest across land owned by James and Wilda Obey. The board intends to condemn the land and use eminent domain if no agreement is reached.
The Obeys and their neighbors, many whose land borders the forest, filled the boardroom at the Pine County Board meeting Feb. 2, 2018.
Commissioner Steve Chaffee spoke for the Land Advisory Committee saying they had attempted to negotiate access to the Obey’s property and they were recommending the county board allow 90 days to continue negotiation with the Obeys and if no agreement is reached to proceed with condemnation.
Chairman Steve Hallan said, “I’m fine with the 90 days but I know how this works. At 87 days they’ll want 15 more.”
The Obeys have owned the property in question for 40 years and had it officially declared Conservation Easement land 10 years ago.
Five years ago, the county exchanged land with the State which expanded the tax forfeited land, classified as Memorial Forest, to 1,120 acres. It borders the Obeys.
The county has access to the Memorial Forest land off County Road 14 and through the Chengwatana Forest. Logging is a typical practice on State and county forest land.
Pine County has requested temporary access to the memorial forest on a road/trail which crosses the Obey’s land. They have also requested purchase of easement to the county forest land. And, the county had the 33-foot wide, quarter-mile piece of land surveyed and valued at $8,000. Both requests were denied by the Obeys.
The land identified as Memorial Forest has 300 acres of mature trees which equates to about $190,000 in timber. The county also anticipates the ability to tap into gravel resources on the property and it is mentioned as a reason for wanting access.
The Obeys have a gate across the trail and have provided keys to the gate and allowed several people and neighbors to gain access which is allowed under the conservation easement. In the winter they open the gate for snowmobilers.
The Obey’s attorney James Taurinskas spoke for them at the board meeting.
He said the Obeys have put their land in conservation trust to preserve it and keep it pristine for their enjoyment. The land is less marketable now and devalued by about $400,000 because they will no longer be able to subdivide it and sell it off. The conservation stays with the land if it is sold.
Conservation easements are meant to protect land and preserve the natural habitat as well as shorelines of lakes, rivers and streams and scenic landscapes.
The landowner still owns the land but there are also restrictions which go along with the conservation easement.
According to the Minnesota Land Trust, easements restrict subdivision, commercial or industrial uses, mining, construction of buildings or roads, utilities, disturbance of agitation or topography and any activities on the property that might interfere with the conservation purpose of the easement.
Taurinskas told the board the county’s request for easement is contrary to the Conservation Easement’s restrictions.
A half dozen residents gave their opinions about the county board’s insistence on an easement or the taking by eminent domain.
One resident,Todd Libra, said he was against someone telling a private property owner about who can and can’t access land. He claimed the county didn’t have enough resources to get a meth lab out of the Memorial Forest. He also said there had been deer poaching and house break-ins of the residences surrounding the forest, until the gate was put up on the Obey’s land.
“I’m just trying to figure out who is in favor of gravel mining or clear cutting forest,” he said.
Another resident said Mallard Road, which extends from the Obey’s trail, will break down if logging and gravel trucks use it continually. Those are township roads and who will be repairing the road.
A motion was made by Chaffee for negotiations to continue and if no resolution, the access to the Obey land will come back to the county board to proceed with condemnation. The board approved the motion 5-0.
The expense of condemnation and the costs of the likely court action which will follow, plus building a road to accommodate the trucks over the wetland just beyond the Obey’s trail, and payment of damages and attorney’s fees to the Obeys is projected by Taurinskas to be conservatively $500,000, Taurinskas shared with the PiCK News.
The Minnesota Land Trust is obligated to oversee and enforce the terms of the easement and will legally defend it in the event of a violation.
Taurinskas said the cost to the county would most likely outweigh the $190,000 benefit of logging off the Memorial Forest by taking the Obey’s land through condemnation/eminent domain.

Commissioners push for countywide zoning, townships say too much government

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Township and city officials were invited to a local government meeting by the Pine County Board of Commissioners last week.
The board has been scheduling these meetings twice a year.
In January 2017, the county board and Assessor Kelly Schroeder held open houses to introduce a comprehensive plan. The plan was developed by the board and staff as a way to guide or control development of Pine County and the use of its resources. It became the main topic of discussion at the local government meeting a year ago.
Presentations from Sheriff Jeff Nelson and County Attorney Reese Fredrickson were on the agenda at the Jan. 30, 2018 meeting.
Open discussion on other topics and updates followed including including questions about the commissioners’ push for countywide zoning.
Commissioner Josh Mohr brought up the idea of a countywide dangerous dog control ordinance.
Hinckley City Administrator Kyle Morell said Hinckley had a dog catcher until they lost their dog boarding facility. He said boarding the animals would be an issue of concern.
Commissioner Steve Hallan said the county could create a dog control ordinance and the townships could choose whether or not to opt into the county’s management by adopting its ordinance.
Dogs chasing animals was a police or civil court problem, according to one township official.
County government is becoming overreaching was a comment from the townships.
Another township officer asked if commissioners were still pursuing a countywide zoning ordinance.
Hallan answered by saying their seven-hour strategic planning meeting in January involved countywide zoning.
“We’re probably looking at an opt in countywide zoning ordinance,” he said, comparing it to the county’s sewage treatment (SSTS) ordinance.
A year ago attendees at the local government meeting asked if it was necessary to add another level of government, with countywide zoning, to control water resources and pollution when there were already state and federal agencies assigned to handle those issues.
Farmers also mentioned the county board was overreaching at that meeiting. They said they wanted less government and more autonomy for farmers in the management of their own land and less county interference.
It was recommended at that time by Windemere Township Supervisor Abe Mach that the county take the existing zoning ordinances from each township “under the umbrella of countywide zoning.’ The townships are diverse in their residents and land uses and have tailored their zoning ordinances to fit their diverse population.
The county has set a date for its next local government meeting on May 29, 2018.

9/11 has become a memory triggered by senses for NYC Firefighter Paul Marten

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
In the words of Paul Marten, there’s a place in your mind where you put 9/11 and it becomes like the attack on Pearl Harbor. It plays in your mind like an old movie.
“It’s sort of bitter sweet.”
Every year on September 11, Marten, now retired, goes back to the firehouse to have a remembrance breakfast with the firefighters of FDNY Engine 153 Ladder 77.
He was going to skip the breakfast this year and go for a bike ride instead, but his buddy called and convinced him to go. They go to the breakfast dressed to the nines. Paul wondered if his uniform would fit. His buddy assured him it would.
His daughter, who was just a year old when the Towers went down, only knows what she sees or hears from Marten about that fateful day in 2001, when America lost its innocence.
September 11, 2001 was a scheduled day off from his job as a firefighter. His radio was turned off. But, he was awakened by his wife with the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. He scrambled back to the city. He watched from the ferry as the South Tower crumbled.
Hinckley, Minnesota adopted Paul Marten in 2011 when it held a 10-Year memorial ceremony at Brennan Field.
At the ceremony, Marten did his best to explain 9/11 and the city he calls home. The world became smaller. New York City lost 343 firefighters that day. It became our loss. Paul was the connection.
New York City has changed since 9/11, according to Marten.
“Everyone is a lot more pleasant to each other,” he said.
Today, the memory of 9/11 was in the breath he took when he went outside early this morning. It smelled like that day. The weather has been rainy and he could smell the wet concrete.
“Concrete has a certain smell,” he said. The towers turned to powder when they fell and that’s the smell he experienced, the smell of concrete.
He told this reporter, seven years ago, that as he walked toward Ground Zero on 9/11, “It was like walking on snow. Quiet.”
The dust was inches deep for many, many blocks beyond the Towers. It muffled any sound. The city was eerily quiet.
Marten doesn’t live in fear and doesn’t pass fear on to his son and daughter about what could happen.
“I’m a realist.”
He spent 400 hours after 9/11 searching for human remains which would provide DNA and closure for the families in pain who waited for news.
He chose the recovery duty. When the site was cleared in May of 2002 the city went on to shore up the levels of the World Trade Center Plaza which were below sea level and the Hudson River.
Marten presented American Legion Post 388 with a plaque made from a rare larger piece of plate glass window. It honors those lost, especially the 343 firefighters who gave their live that day as they climbed to save those trapped in the Towers.
God Bless the firefighters who were lost and those who continue to work to keep us safe.
Never forget.

EMS worker Hopkins suffers from PTSD

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News

Memories and dreams can be either comforting or disturbing. The wonderful ones are welcomed.  Then there are the terrifying nightmares - nightmares that keep victims of PTSD from closing their eyes at night.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is most frequently associated with flashbacks suffered by combat veterans.
The renowned Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as a mental condition triggered by a terrifying event, either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. When those symptoms get worse, last for months or even years and interfere with how a person functions day-to-day, it is a sign of PTSD.
Keith Hopkins isn’t a veteran. He has not been in combat. For 20 years, he has been an emergency services worker, a first responder, EMT (emergency medical technician) and paramedic. He has also served as a volunteer firefighter, ambulance personnel and sheriff’s reserve.
He suffers from PTSD.
Keith was born and raised in Pine County - a bigger than life personality with a heart as big as the county. He exudes a friendly, calming confidence and has a commanding presence. All the emergency personnel “go to him,” said fellow EMT, Kim Hopkins, who was overlapping with him on a shift at Grand Casino Hinckley.
She has a special bond and a distinctive place in Keith’s life. She is his twin sister. The brother/sister duo talked about how they go through continual training - triage, prioritizing and mass casualty training. There’s very little debriefing.
“Someone dies in your arms, there’s no training for that,” Kim said.
They remembered captains in the past who told them “If you can’t handle it, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.”
In July 2015, Keith answered a pager call as a first responder and it changed his life. It was a train/pedestrian accident, within sight of his home. It was the second one in just a few years at the same spot.
“There’s no way this can happen in the same spot twice,” Keith said.
His wife, Jo, also an EMT, sat down to talk with this reporter. She asked her husband if he remembered why he answered the page that night.
“I was hoping to find a live body,” Keith said.
He couldn’t erase the vision of the carnage from his mind. It was one of the few times there had been a debriefing for all the emergency personnel.

In the weeks that followed, Keith explained that his body began shutting down. The flashbacks started and he developed a severe stutter. Lying awake at night, he began remembering names of victims, dates of accidents, babies who died and multiple casualty accidents. The train accident triggered 50 specific  trauma incidents “as if they were yesterday.”

He remembered the teenage girl who lost an arm and a leg in a car accident that took her life.

There were dreams and flashbacks of the mother and her three children from Pine City whose van hit a bridge abutment on I-35 and ended up the size of a compact car.

“It was horrific. I couldn’t believe we took a body out, then there was another, and another. Then I saw another foot. We body-bagged them all,” he said as tears flowed freely.

“Everything is stored in your mind, in a box,” Keith said. Anything can trigger the flashbacks. Recently he heard someone call out a name. It triggered a flashback. It was the name of an infant victim.

Working in an area where Keith knows so many people, their tragedy becomes a trigger. Seeing them reminds him that he handled the emergency call for one of their family members.

“Watching the news - there are times when you just have to turn it off,” he said. “Two years ago I didn’t have anything that triggered me. Now it’s all the time. Seeing my wife in her EMT clothes - it’s a reminder.”

“You don’t go to bed. You can’t close your eyes.”

In his dreams, the faces of the victims are replaced by family members. He sees their faces with their hands reaching out toward him crying for help but he can’t and the train hits. In his dreams, he sees a black body hanging from the tree in the front of his house. He says it’s his soul.

He has learned to avoid triggers, people he knows, families - “I don’t have the same friends.” For a long time, Keith avoided crowds.

“It’s sad because it takes away the things you used to do,” Keith said. He used to enjoy reading anatomy and physiology books and playing piano.

Life changed for Keith and Jo.

There were days when he would forget to take his medications. His memory loss was “horrible.”

“For 18 years, I was 10 feet tall and bulletproof. You don’t think it’s happening. It is. It’s mental and emotional. You wonder what your colleagues are thinking about you. I worked 72 hours a week at two jobs and I was a firefighter. It’s a way of life. You don’t think about it affecting you.”

He couldn’t control his emotions.

Jo works until 1 a.m. Keith’s PTSD has taken him into a world where he is afraid to be alone and scared of the dark. Because the pager wakes him up in the middle of the night, he keeps the lights and the TV on for background noise.

He had to quit work on the ambulance crew.

“Essentia took care of me in this process,” Keith said. He is grateful for the help from Sue Bengtson and Joe Newton who got the ball rolling.

According to Kim, most organizations don’t recognize PTSD for workers compensation claims.

“Those days were lonely, especially during the day. That first winter was awful. I had to fight to think of things to do.”

It was hard for Jo to see Keith in that state. “It cost a lot in our relationship,” she said.

“She’s simply amazing,” he said. She cared for him and shared the journey that brought him back to a life closer to normal. The understanding and support of his family is making his recovery possible.

He began seeing a therapist two years ago - a specialist who deals with police, fire and EMS workers who suffer from PTSD. He began an EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) therapy. His therapist had never had a patient who had been exposed to so much trauma on a regular basis. They found a medication that decreased the dreams and the weekly sessions are now once every three weeks.

His colleagues proved to be the support he needed, especially in those early days.

Pine County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Scotty Grice came by the house several times during the day to check on him and fellow firefighter Bill Chose was by his side through the worst days. His friend, Nick, stopped by and reached out to him.

He values the kind words and support of his colleagues - EMTs and paramedics Briana and Julie who talked and listened, and Barb who made a dreamcatcher to help with his nightmares.

That first winter, Jo and Kim began searching for a service dog for Keith. The cost was more than they could afford. Their dog, Mandalay, had always been a comfort for them. Mandalay would snuggle up to them when they came home after a shift on the ambulance. But, she was getting old and Jo worried that Keith would soon be without the comforting warmth of her presence and the huge support she had been.

It was a worry she couldn’t shake. She knew Keith needed a dog that would respond to his needs while she was at work. Jo was looking for a chocolate lab because it was his favorite breed. That was how she learned of Courage Service dogs trained specifically to serve EMS and veterans suffering from PTSD.

In the meantime, Jo got a mixed breed puppy which Keith named Tiki. She has been a great companion since they had to put Mandalay down. But, the need for a trained service dog was still there.

The Hopkins’ prayers were answered when they learned Courage Service Dogs had a dog for Keith. They will provide the training for Keith and the English Lab named Scarlett. She has been donated by Welcome Home Labs - a Pine County Kennel located in Bruno. They donate service dogs for training to those suffering from PTSD.

There will be a Dine and Donate benefit event Saturday, Sept. 16, 2016, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., at Hinckley Fire Hall, 106 1st Street, Hinckley. There will be sloppy joes, potato salad, chips and dessert served and a free will offering to help defray the costs Courage Service Dogs’ will incur to complete Scarlett’s training and for the training of dogs in the future.

Scarlett will be trained to perform many tasks which include turning on lights and watching Keith’s back in crowds.

“I can manage through the days fairly okay. At night, she will recognize the nervousness, she will see body reaction and get me out of that thought process,” Keith said.

He feels lucky to have a network of family and friends who support him and was amazed at all the calls and messages from Essentia Ambulance personnel, FirstLight Health System and Fairview - Wyoming emergency services.

Keith has found a way to give back and recognize all the emergency service providers and dispatchers.

He has begun a tradition of serving them on Christmas Day. Remembering all the microwaved meals he had eaten during the holidays when he was on call and on duty, he makes a sit down dinner with all the trimmings. All emergency service personnel are welcome to stop by for a hot, homemade meal at the Hinckley Fire Hall on Christmas Day. This Christmas will be the third year he has served those who serve.

Keith maintains his service to the fire and rescue squad but is cautious about exposure to trauma until he is medically cleared. His hope is he will be able to serve again on the ambulance or in a similar capacity.

Repeated exposure to trauma was what caused Keith’s PTSD. He is hoping this candid interview creates awareness about the toll it takes on the lives of those who serve and opens a door for other EMS workers, police, paramedics, firefighters and EMTs to seek treatment for PTSD.

For more information on the Courage Service Dogs organization go to:, or email

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