WAKEFIELD — During last weekend’s storm, the Wakefield Rescue Department was called out in the most awful weather to respond to one of the worst situations.
The pagers indicated there was a call, and many of the volunteer responders were obviously in bed.
They knew what the weather conditions were before they went to bed, but when the pager goes off — you go.
Saul Phillips, the basketball coach from the Northern State College men’s team in Aberdeen, South Dakota, was traveling from Sioux Falls to Wayne for a basketball game on Saturday.
He decided not to ride the bus from the Friday night game at Augustana, and it ended up being a life-saver for a Wakefield couple trying to get to a hospital as the woman was in full-term labor.
North of Wakefield, the couple slid off the icy roads and ended up in the ditch on Highway 9.
Phillips called 911 and the members of Wakefield Fire and Rescue were summoned.
Teresa Soderberg, Larry Soderberg, Scott Wageman, Jake Rahn, Nick Ekberg, Adam Uldrich, Riley Ekberg and Lyle Ekberg answered the 2 a.m. call early Saturday.
Dakotah Roberts tried to respond but went in the ditch before getting to the fire hall. He had to walk home from more than a mile away.
Lyle Ekberg was sent home because his son, Nick, didn’t want to collide with him when he and Riley went home, as they live down the same road.
“It was awful conditions,” Nick Ekberg said. “I have a snow plow on my vehicle and I couldn’t see it going down the road.”
Larry Soderberg, captain of the rescue squad, who has been on the department for more than 37 years, echoed Ekberg’s take on the weather.
“It was one of the top three or four times I was nervous driving to a rescue call,” he said. “But you have to do it to help.”
The group met at the Wakefield Fire Hall and developed a plan.
“We always develop a plan or strategy before we leave,” Teresa Soderberg said. “It’s important we are all on the same page.”
The rescuers drove in three different vehicles a mile and a half north of Wakefield — with the understanding one of them would get there.
“You can’t just all jump in the ambulance and go,” Wakefield Fire Chief Adam Uldrich said. “You need to plan to make sure someone gets there to help the people needing your help.”
Uldrich was happy there were enough members who arrived at the call to make it an option.
The convoy crept north, sometimes coming to a complete stop as visibility was brutal.
“I was driving the ambulance,” Larry Soderberg said. “I just kept my eyes on the lights in front of me.”
At times, the conditions were so poor, Soderberg couldn’t see his own front bumper, much less the lights in front of him.
“I would come to a complete stop and radio ahead for the lead vehicles to stop,” he said. “Sometimes the wind would let up and I could see again and sometimes I had to just creep along blindly.”
Rahn, who met the crew from the north, showed up and gave Teresa Soderberg an image she won’t forget anytime soon.
“We had been outside maybe two minutes when I saw him,” she said. “His beard was already iced over and when we got in the ditch — it was hard to find the car again.”
With the raging wind, cold conditions and blowing snow, Uldrich was glad for some of the advice he handed out when they planned their attack on the call.
“I told everyone to put on bunker gear,” Uldrich said.
“I’m glad he did,” Scott Wageman said.
The adventure wasn’t over as after the rescuers loaded up the pregnant woman and the people with her. They had to get her to a hospital for the birth of her baby.
The group made its way back to Wakefield but decided to use the services of the Nebraska Department of Transportation for an assist.
“We called the DOT for a snow plow so we could get to Wayne to take care of the mother and baby,” Uldrich said. “They came pretty much right away and off we went, and it was still pretty nasty.”
On a lot of rescue calls under these conditions, the outcome is not joyous.
At the end of the day, this one turned out great.
A new baby was born, a coach made it to his basketball game and all of the rescuers were on hand to retell the story.
“It was a win all the way around,” Larry Soderberg said. “Helping people and getting the job done is why we do these things.”