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Local police, firefighters helped at site of collapse

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By the time Chris Dyson got to Minneapolis last Wednesday evening much of the chaos surrounding the collapse of the I-35W bridge had dissipated. Bystanders and first responders had rescued the people who needed rescuing. Those who needed medical attention were either at the hospital or on their way. People had had a chance to come to terms with the catastrophic failure of one of Minnesota's most vital pieces of transportation infrastructure.

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Still, it's likely to be a long time before Dyson, a seven-year veteran of the Rosemount Fire Department who responded as a member of the Dakota County Special Operations Team, forgets what he saw that night.

Dyson and Ed Kropelnicki, another Rosemount firefighter and SOT member, both showed up in Minneapolis around 7:30 p.m.

"By then it had calmed down quite a bit," Dyson said. "The viable patients, the patients that needed to get off the (bridge) deck were already off by the time we got there."

The SOT had two main jobs. Some team members helped remove a body from a car on the bridge deck. Others did reconnaissance work, checking out cars on the middle section of bridge that had fallen into the Mississippi.

Dyson said the scene at the bridge was unlike anything he'd ever seen.

"The pictures don't really do it justice," he said. "It's a lot larger than it looks on film. Considering how close we were -- we were right at the north end of the bridge. We were literally a rock's throw away from the bridge deck.

"I've been to a lot of fire calls and car accidents. It was like nothing I've ever seen."

Dyson said he was impressed with the way people responded to the disaster.

"People really stepped up to the plate and took care of people," he said. "90 percent of the work was done by the time we got there."

The local SOT members were on the scene as part of a larger group of specially trained rescue workers called Minnesota Task Force One. Because of the heat and humidity last Wednesday rescue workers rotated frequently between working and resting.

Members of the 2-year-old Special Operations Team, which includes representatives from every city in Dakota County as well as local ambulance services, undergo hundreds of hours of special training in rescue operations, including training for rescues from structural collapses.

"That's obviously why were called," Dyson said.

Brad Miller, another Rosemount firefighter who serves on the Special Operations Team, was on vacation last Wednesday and unable to respond.

Other assistance

Dyson and Kropelnicki were not the only locals providing assistance at the scene of the bridge collapse. Five Rosemount police officers made their way to Minneapolis between Thursday afternoon and Saturday to help establish a perimeter around the bridge and keep people from walking or driving into the area.

Rosemount police chief Gary Kalstabakken said the officers responded to a request for help from the Minneapolis Police Department and the Minnesota State Patrol.

The Rosemount officers who responded are: Julie Rauenhorst, Bryan Weatherford, Henry Cho, John Winters and Bryan Burkhalter.

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