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Katie Pinke: First responders to child fatalities shoulder painful burden

As our beloved American flag flew high this past weekend and the fireworks lit up the night sky, there's a special group of people in our communities I wanted to honor. Without skipping a beat, they respond to a call for help. Sometimes there's a...

Katie Pinke
Katie Pinke

As our beloved American flag flew high this past weekend and the fireworks lit up the night sky, there’s a special group of people in our communities I wanted to honor. Without skipping a beat, they respond to a call for help. Sometimes there’s a happy ending; sometimes it’s sad. Through it all, their attentiveness is comforting and commendable.

On June 23, brothers Zachary and Connor Kvalvog were taken from this earth too soon as a result of a car accident near Dalton, Minn. The boys have been beloved friends of our son, Hunter, since he was 6. The days after the accident have been grueling for Hunter and our entire family, but our pain is minimal compared with the sheer heartache that Ray and Kathie are experiencing as they learn how to live without their only two children. From Friday:  NBA first-round pick Tyus Jones sends condolences to Kvalvog family

At the funeral, 1,200 people packed a church in south Fargo to honor the brothers. The music was uplifting. The speakers and pastor eloquently showcased Zach and Conner’s generous hearts and purpose-driven lives. There was peace amidst the insurmountable pain. Afterward, over ham sandwiches, coleslaw, cookies, lemonade and coffee, hundreds gathered to fellowship, offer hugs and share memories.

It was there I saw them-a table of men and women of varying ages in crisp white button-up shirts and dark pants. There was an emblem on the sleeve of each shirt. The group was solemn, only visiting amongst themselves. I walked by and read the words on the emblem: Dalton First Responders. I choked, gasped for an extra breath and swallowed hard, fighting back another flood tears. These are the men and women who responded to the horrific accident that involved four boys headed to a basketball camp. Two teammates survived with serious injuries. Two teammates did not.

The First Responders were at the church to pay their respects. Likewise, I wanted to thank them for their service, but I was paralyzed with emotion. I shuffled over to the edge of the room to gain my composure. A friend saw me and offered me a chair. I sat, sipped on some coffee and visited for a few minutes. When I stood up to head back to the First Responders, I realized they had left before I could thank them.


Dalton is a town of a few hundred people. I don’t know any of the First Responders, but I know they give more than they are ever compensated for, which is true for any emergency or law enforcement personnel who serve in our communities. While many mourn and grieve after a tragedy strikes, there’s a group of people in every community who choose to serve as a full-time occupation or on a volunteer basis.

Fifteen years ago this summer, my brother Robbie survived a farm accident. A volunteer ambulance crew from Aneta, N.D., was responsible for transporting him to the hospital 60 miles away in Grand Forks. Thankfully, he recovered, which is a direct result of the volunteers’ skill and quick response.

Earlier this week, I visited with a high school friend who is an Emergency Medical Technician in Fargo. She had heard about the Kvalvog brothers’ accident and while she didn’t know them, her mind hit fast forward and she could picture her two young sons playing basketball as teenagers. Her heart ached for a mom who lost her only two children, her life and her world. She tried to stop her mind from racing, but she couldn’t shake that all-too-familiar feeling. That consuming sensation sucked the air out of her lungs when she attended the funeral of the first baby she tried to save from SIDS. After the first, there was a second then a third. There’s nothing worse than responding to accidents that involve kids, she says.

The Dalton first responders will forever remember that call. Years from now something will trigger a memory of that crash, and the emotions will be just as raw. My friend gets paid to do her job. It provides for her family and serves her community. There are others who respond to the scene of an accident and voluntarily give of their time to use their training to help others. They choose to serve their community.  

To the first responders, EMTs, law enforcement personnel and firefighters, thank you for serving our communities and families. To the Dalton First Responders, your presence spoke volumes and I will never forget. Every time I drive on I-94 in western Minnesota, I will remember how you responded in the time of need then showed up six days later to pay your respects at the funeral.

Connect with Katie Pinke on her blog  thepinkepost.com , Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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