Rescue crews deal with tragedy

A two-week search for the victims of a Winona river crash ended Sunday with the discovery of a fourth body. While more than 30 crews have returned to their own counties after helping in the search, Winona’s first responders are still coming to terms with the crash.

Winona’s rescue crew is made up of volunteers who give up their free time, and sometimes their work-time, to respond to emergencies. They all have other jobs, families and responsibilities – but what they see while they’re on this job can leave the biggest impression.

Brian Buerck has been a part of Winona County’s Rescue Team for 30 years. During those decades, he says he’s seen too much death – but it never stops hurting.

“You can’t get used to it, you can’t be cold hearted,” Buerck says. “You feel for all the victims, and their families.”

After every call, first responders sit down together to reflect. If necessary, a counselor joins them.

But sometimes, all these first responders want is a little rest – if they can find it.

“I know it wears on me, because I have trouble sleeping,” says Winona Sheriff Dave Brand. “I’ve had nightmares already, fallen out of bed and broke my ribs.”

Family members bear the brunt of the hurt, as well. Brand says during long searches like the latest one, he can leave home for hours, and miss work for days on end. The job forces him to miss time with his sons, to spend it looking for someone else’s.


But to Buerck, it’s his responsibility.

“It is difficult for a lot of people, a lot of people say, ‘I can’t believe you do what you do.’ Our view is, it’s our way to give back to the community.”