National EMS ride stops here, honors fallen members
Bikes aren't the usual traffic to roll into the River Falls Area Hospital parking lot. But on June 30, quite a few bicycles did so, rolling down the long, curving drive with the riders to the hospital.
It was all part of the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride, which stopped in River Falls, Wis., for the first time this year, according to EMS Director Jeff Rixmann.
Many of the riders on this year's Midwest route started on June 26 in Northbrook, Ill., a Chicago suburb. The ride concluded June 30 in Woodbury.
The participants of the ride did so to remember 90 honorees who have died or become ill or injured while working as emergency medical technicians (EMTs).
"We're honored to be a stop this year," Rixmann said. "We're honoring our six fallen—four from River Falls, two from Prescott. They have been, obviously, valuable through the EMS community over the years."
The National EMS Memorial Bike Ride—a five-day, 575-mile journey—honors EMS personnel nationwide who have died in service or after many years of service.
There were five routes on the ride this year. The Midwest ride is one of those. River Falls was one of the last few stops, along with Red Wing, Ellsworth, and Hudson, before ending in Woodbury. Along the way, participants made stops to honor EMS providers who died on and off the job.
The River Falls Area Hospital hosted a lunch, and brief ceremony for the River Falls and Prescott honorees.
Riders and their support teams carried dogtags inscribed with the names of honorees, which were presented to family members and agencies.
Rixmann said after a few months of planning, it was a very exciting day.
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Tributes to all of the honorees were staked into the ground outside of the Woodbury Public Safety Building as a procession of supporters arrived on the afternoon of June 30. Bagpipes led people indoors and two honor guards presented the colors.
Prior to ceremonies, a room full of riders stood in the building's training room, giving up their seats in appreciation of and respect for the families of the honorees they called heroes.
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Honoree Mike Stuttgen's wife Pam Stuttgen, and daughters Stacy Triplat and Nicole Griesbach said they were very pleased with the event. Pam described it as "very touching."
"It's humbling," Triplat said. "It's really cool to see the involvement and see the volunteers... and just to honor what they did for their community."
Triplat said she was also glad her children could come with her to the event to see what their grandpa did for the community.
"It's just an amazing tribute to my dad," said Stuttgen's daughter, Nicole Griesbach.
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Dozens of bicyclists rode through Ellsworth, Wis., on June 30 as part of the final leg of the ride.
Among the riders who made the trip from Illinois to Minnesota was Tracy Huebner, a Minneapolis resident and paramedic at Allina Health EMS. He said he was doing the ride "in respect of all the folks who have gone before us."
Huebner was wearing three tags of EMTs who had died, including former co-worker Rick Swedlund.
The Ellsworth stop remembered three local EMTs who died outside of the line of duty.
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A group of bicyclists stood solemnly June 29 on the shore of Lake Pepin as the names of fallen emergency responders were read aloud — each time followed by the ringing of a bell.
The Lake City, Minn., stop was attended by local police and ambulance service, and included a flyover by Mayo One helicopter.
"Whether you are a rider or one of the support team, the ride is an emotional experience that impacts both the participants and the families and agencies of those being honored," Dave Page, the ride's midwest coordinator, said in a news release. "There is a sense of pride in the EMS profession and the knowledge that regardless of the location of the service, we are all in it together."
Learn more about the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride and the Fallen Angel Fund to support family members of EMS personnel, visit national-ems-memorial.org/about-the-national-ems-memorial-bike-ride or muddyangels.com.
Mathias Baden, Michael Brun, and Blaze Fugina contributed to this report.