A brisk fall morning on the Mississippi River, the Minnesota Aviation Rescue Team (MART) conducted one of their many helicopter and water rescue trainings at Hidden Falls Regional Park. This unique intergovernmental partnership between the Minnesota State Patrol’s Aviation Division and the Saint Paul Fire Department has been in place since 2011. Most of the team members are also assigned to the Saint Paul Fire Department’s Rescue Squad 3, which specializes in technical rescues (e.g., rope, cave, confined space, trench, and building collapse rescue). Their advanced skill set makes them ideal partners for the Minnesota Aviation Rescue Team. From the State Patrol’s flight base at the Saint Paul Downtown Airport/ Holman Field this team is dispatched statewide wherever their skills might be required.


The training is precise, efficient, and visually stunning. Each MART member takes turns jumping in the river to play the role of rescuee, while another is suspended from the helicopter while wearing a special flotation harness to accomplish a series of rescues plunging in and out of the river. Meanwhile, overhead the Minnesota State Patrol pilots maneuver the helicopter with exactitude. This is no small task as they must fly with their head out the window looking down at the river. The only means of communication between the river and the sky is visual. The firefighters wear helmets with a bright X marked on top and provide a series of head nods and claps of legs to tell the pilot what to do. A Saint Paul Fire Department rescue boat is also on the river providing support and monitoring the water. In a little less than four hours, the gracious, adept, and focused professionals train 18 firefighters and 5 pilots. The benefit of the state partnering exclusively with Saint Paul results in a deep investment to the quality of the team which ultimately serves the whole of Minnesota.

The Mississippi River is an asset in our community, providing space for first responders to train for challenging rescues. The Great River Passage exists to preserve and enhance our experiences with the river.

Photo Credit: Chris Juhn

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