Rising to the occasion

Minnkota’s Emergency Rescue Team recently used its unique rope training to safely lower an injured contractor from a 40-foot scaffold.


Kaylee Cusack


June 19, 2023

When Simon Manifold’s phone rang on March 10, he was expecting the contractor foreman on the other side of the line to be calling with a question about scaffolding. The foreman was someone who Manifold, a maintenance coordinator at Minnkota’s Milton. R. Young Station near Center, N.D., had worked with a great deal over several major maintenance outages at the power plant.

But the caller’s question wasn’t about scaffolding this time.

“He asked if anyone on the rescue team was on site today. I was like, ‘Yeah, what do you got? What do you need?’” Manifold recalled. “He said he had a guy hurt up on some scaffolding, and he was thinking of throwing something together to get him down. I said, ‘No. No you can’t. We have equipment for that.’”

Minnkota had the team, the training and the technique necessary to complete the rescue of a contractor who had injured his knee while taking down a set of scaffolding in the Young Station’s scrubber tower. The man made a misstep on the top level of the 40-foot structure, dislocating and fracturing his patella. He wouldn’t be coming down without specialized rescue ropes and harnesses.

Manifold, who also serves as co-leader of the 14-person Minnkota Emergency Rescue Team, put a call out to all available rescue team members. Within 5-7 minutes, half of the team was at the site with the Roco Rescue ropes needed to get the contractor down safely.

A photo captured on March 10 shows the height at which a contractor found himself injured and unable to self-rescue. (Minnkota)

“This is the first time – I think in all of our careers – that we’ve actually gotten to utilize the ropes portion of our training,” Manifold said. He explained that the rescue team trains at least once a month in different areas of emergency response, so they were well prepared for this moment.

Minnkota Plant Mechanic Trever Himmelspach was the first to the top of the scaffold, and was soon followed by Project Engineering Supervisor Treavor Hendrickson and Plant Technician Ben Howard. They ensured that the injured knee was the only medical issue at hand and began the process of swapping out the contractor’s safety harness with the rescue harness.

Since the scaffolding was in the process of being disassembled, the hired scaffolding crew worked to reinforce the structure to provide high-point anchors as the rescue team acted. Manifold joined the men at the top as Yard Operator Dan Imdieke, Safety & Physical Security Supervisor Troy Karlberg, and HR Coordinator Laura Fleckenstein prepared a stretcher for patient care.

“Within our team, we really know each other’s strengths – like Trever is super good on ropes, Troy and I are medical because we’re EMTs,” Fleckenstein said. “We all have our strengths and weaknesses.”

Howard worked the safety line as the others slowly lowered the man toward the floor. The rescue rope system performed beautifully, allowing the contractor to maintain a seated position to guard his knee. As he came down, the scaffold builders came together to fill in the gaps, with someone staged at every level to hold the precious cargo out away from the tower.

Another photo from the March 10 rescue shows the ERT teamwork involved in safely lowering the injured contractor to the ground. (Minnkota)

With the patient safely lowered to the stretcher, Karlberg and Fleckenstein put their volunteer EMT skills to work. They cut the contractor’s pants, stabilized the knee, put on a brace and made him comfortable for ambulance transport. As the emergency vehicle sped off to the hospital, the seven Minnkota rescuers gathered for a debrief meeting.

“It really hadn’t sunk in yet for me,” Manifold said. “I was like, it’s over – that really happened, and it’s over already. We knocked it out of the park. I didn’t have to coach any of them. They just picked it up and did it. They made my job really easy.”

Building the team

The Minnkota Emergency Rescue Team falls under the supervision of Tim Krous, the plant’s Safety & Physical Security specialist. Krous was not on shift on the day of the incident, but he followed the response through the rescue team’s group text thread – as did the other emergency responders who weren’t present. Texts of “Go get him!” and “You got this!” and “Congrats!” flooded their phones that morning.

“I’m extremely proud of the team. These guys knew exactly what they needed, put together a team quickly and got him down quickly. A lot of times in these situations, time is of the essence,” Krous said. “Had it been a heart attack or needed CPR, that kind of scenario, time is huge. And that’s why we train together. It was awesome.”

ERT co-leader Simon Manifold runs a rope rescue drill with the help of a volunteer "victim." (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)
Manifold makes it safely to the ground of the Milton R. Young Station. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

The role of building a strong rescue team is not one Krous takes lightly. Plant employees must apply for one of the positions in the rare times there is an open slot. Although no previous training is required, the selected candidates must illustrate a blend of physical fearlessness and calm under pressure. “Not everyone is built for that. Everyone has that natural instinct of fight or flight. You need people who will fight,” Krous said.

Some rescue team members do bring past work experiences to the table. For instance, Krous previously worked on the police force, and three rescuers serve in the military (Dan Imdieke, Johnathon Torfin and Jordan Ternes). However, the ability to learn lifesaving skills is one of the reasons many others are drawn to apply.

Members of Minnkota's ERT, left to right: (Back row) Simon Manifold, Casey Zarr, Channing Schafer, Treavor Hendrickson, (front row) Trever Himmelspach, Pat Weninger, Tim Krous (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

“I didn’t have any kind of prior medical training. And that’s a part of the reason I wanted to do it – so I could take it home,” said Howard, referring to his wife and son. “And it’s just thrilling to me.”

Roco Rescue, the company who provided the training critical to the rope rescue that day, awarded the Minnkota team with its Real Rescue Award, a plaque that now hangs in the hallway of the plant. The company now has plans to roll out scaffolding-specific training, and they’ve asked to use Minnkota’s scenario as a way to kick off the session. Manifold says the group of contractors they assisted that day expressed mountains of gratitude, with compliments specifically from the foreman who called him on the phone that morning.

ERT members Pat Weninger (left) and Trever Himmelspach begin their double descent during training. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

The Minnkota Emergency Rescue Team doesn’t do what they do for plaques or praise. They do it simply because helping people is the cooperative way.

“It’s not even a thought – it’s just a reaction,” Fleckenstein said. “I treat them all as my family, no matter where I am or what I’m doing.”

MAIN IMAGE: Minnkota Emergency Rescue Team members Channing Schafer (left) and Tim Krous rappel down a Young Station building during monthly rescue training.


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