Herald Journal - Enterprise Dispatch - Delano Herald Journal
Lester Prairie firefighter finds missing Alzheimer’s patient

Sept. 28, 2009

By Lynda Jensen

GLENCOE, MN – Luck might be an asset on top of all the numerous skills required for fire department training these days, but firefighter Steve Dietel of Lester Prairie will take it.

Dietel was one of 10 firefighters from Lester Prairie who responded to a call in Glencoe recently about an elderly man with Alzheimer’s who went missing from a Glencoe care facility.

The oldster, originally from Plato, was “heading home,” Dietel said. But Dietel, who was working as a team with fellow fireman Matt Tonn, found him safe and sound, “covered in mud and mosquitoes,” near an alfalfa field. The missing man was dehydrated, but otherwise OK.

“I was in the right place, at the right time,” Dietel said. “(The missing man) was about 50 yards from a corn field, and looked like he was heading that way,” Dietel said.

If the old timer had made it to the corn field, the story might have ended differently; since it was later in the afternoon at that time and rescuers had been searching for hours already.

“I was starting to panic,” admitted Glencoe Police Chief Jeff Cummins. “It was going to get dark.”

It was determined that the missing man had already wandered through one corn field before he was found, Cummins said.

Lester Prairie Fire Chief Jim Hoof said the rest of the Lester Prairie firefighters who took part in the search were Dan Barrett, Paul Christensen, Scott Christenson, Andy Heimerl, Don Hoof, Lucas Meyer, Lee Ortloff, and Fred Pawelk. These men gave up the best part of an afternoon to help search for the missing elderly man.

The search took three-and-a-half hours, and involved more than 50 men associated with 11 agencies, including fire departments and police departments from Lester Prairie and Glencoe, as well as the McLeod County Sheriff’s Office, Civil Air Defense, the Plato Fire Department, the Meeker County Mounted Patrol, Sibley County Mounted Patrol, Wright County Sheriff’s Office, and a State Patrol helicopter. A mounted posse from Meeker County was unloading its horses when Dietel found the man, Cummins said. “The horses were about ready to go,” but not afforded the chance, he added.

The call first came at 12:39 p.m., sending out several agencies to a unified command post in Glencoe, since this is where the Alzheimer’s patient was last seen, Cummins said.

However, the missing man wasn’t found, and more help was needed as time passed by, so more agencies were called in. Lester Prairie was called out at 2:09 p.m., Hoof said.

Rescuers determined early that the missing man would likely head back to Plato. Since he used to be an avid trapper, they presumed he would travel near creeks or in ditches.

Each department worked as a large team, systematically combing quadrants of area. The area given to Lester Prairie was the northeast corner of Glencoe, pointing toward Lester Prairie. The group started at 120th Street, between Cable and Eagle, Dietel said. This turned up nothing, so they moved on to their next section along 120th, between Eagle and Falcon.

From there, Dietel was walking along the road searching, when he sighted the missing man, still inside the Glencoe city limits. Dietel asked him where he was going, and the old man said he was headed home. The old timer wasn’t afraid of him, but simply said he wanted to go home.

This effectively ended the search at 3:50 a.m., Cummins said.

This story had a happy ending, but some in the area haven’t been so lucky, such as the Alzheimer’s patient in Hutchinson who was found dead in a slough a year ago after he wandered away and couldn’t be found.

In his 31 years with the fire department, Hoof remembers this being the third search and rescue he’s seen. About 10 years ago, he remembers a guy who jumped out of a car, he said. Twelve years ago or so, he remembers a woman who fell into a ravine and needed rescuing.

This is the first large-scale search for Cummins, who has been chief since 2002, he said. It is also the first time that anyone has walked out of the Grand Meadows facility, Cummins added. “The staff at Grand Meadows were awesome. They were great partners,” Cummins said.

Cummins praised all of the officers and responders who answered the call for help, each working cooperatively together. The whole operation worked very smoothly, like clockwork, with each department doing its part to execute the search.

Everyone worked together like an experienced team. This made the operation successful, Cummins said.


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