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Duluth Fire Dept. app helps save man alone, paralyzed on rural bike trail

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DULUTH, MN-- On August 10, 2019, Brok Hansmeyer's life was forever changed.

What started as an afternoon of fun on the trail, quickly turned ugly. But if not for cutting edge technology, there's a chance it would've been deadly.

After dropping his pregnant wife Amanda and two young boys off at the airport, and a full day of work, Brok Hansmeyer was ready for some downtime.

He explained, "I was going to do something fun."

The Duluth Realtor was off the clock and planned to hit the trails. He was hoping to have what he called a "bachelor night". "I was going to go for a long bike ride, come home, eat some pizza and some chips, have a beer."

No stranger to mountain biking, Brok decided to take a ride on an unfamiliar trail within the Mission Creek Trail System.

"I was biking pretty fast. There was kind of this moment where I came off this drop," recalls Brok. "Things took a turn pretty quickly there."

No more than 15-minutes into his ride, Brok crashed his bike and found himself in a nightmare situation. "I slapped my legs, it was like hitting a 50-pound bag of cement."

Landing directly on his head, and smashing his helmet, the impact of the crash left his lower body paralyzed. He said, "There was just nothing there. There was no feeling."

Reaching for his cell phone, struggling to call for help, Brok was thinking the worst. "I'm alone here on a trail where it's remote, I can't move my body. Am I going to die here? How are they going to come find me?"

After struggling with weak hands, Brok was eventually able to call 911. It wasn't long until help was on the way.

A fellow biker heard about the accident and came to be with Brok as he was talking to the dispatcher. His friend was able to get Brok's wife Amanda on the phone.

"I was able to let her know what happened. That I was alive," said Brok.

Waylon Munch, a member of Duluth COGGS works on maintaining the Mission Creek Trail System, arrived at the scene shortly after.

"I started getting passed by a bunch of emergency vehicles. I just asked if they needed help locating anyone on the trails. I mentioned that I knew the trail system pretty well," said Munch.

When he spoke with emergency responders, they showed him their iPad with coordinates to Brok. He was located on a black diamond trail, called Flyover Country. The coordinates showing up on the iPad through an app.

"A system was introduced to us called Avenza," said Chief Deputy Scott Kleive with the Duluth Fire Department.

With over 300-miles of trails in a 26-mile long city, there's an ever-growing need for updated data and maps.

Matt Andrews, The City of Duluth Trails Coordinator said, "With so many miles of trail, you can really see how's there a need for this Avenza system."

The system was introduced to the Department in 2016 through a collaborative problem-solving effort with Emergency Management Representatives, The Minnesota DNR, and Duluth Police Department.

So how does Avenza work?

Maps of the trails are built by The City of Duluth GIS department and imported into the system. When someone calls 911 they are able to pinpoint their location. The Duluth Fire Department then puts the coordinates into Avenza and can use a comprehensive map to show the best way to respond.

"We are able to with that build and control what we want to see on a map. Whether it's a snowmobile trail, a bike trail, or a ski trail," said Chief Deputy Kleive.

Avenza is able to shorten response times to emergencies, allowing people to get critical care, quickly.

"Before we had Avenza we had all the maps we would have had a very difficult time finding a patient out in the wilderness," said Capt. Josh Wightman with the Duluth Fire Department.

Avenza allows a response so accurate, it helped saved Brok's life.

Brok said, "I would have died on the trail."

Months into his recovery Brok's journey progressed. As he began to gain movement he just wanted a few simple things

"I wanted to dance with my wife, I can do that now. I can stand, I just wanted to stand. I wanted to wrestle with my boys," said Brok with tears in his eyes.

A year later, Brok is walking again, getting back to selling homes in Duluth, and working on getting his driver's license.

He never imagined so many people would come together to help his family in a time of need. He said, "We've just had so much support, so much love. And people have cared so much about our family."

First responders still remembering that day on the trails and how an app saved critical time when time was key.

Munch from COGGS said, "You hope you never have to use it but it's really nice to know you can rely on it when it's needed."

Brok and his family are thankful every day for those first responders and remember how precious each day is.

Brok said, "Our life very much drastically changed from, going to a fun bike ride in the woods, working that day to you know, am I going to die? I'm very grateful that the City of Duluth had that GPS system."

Brok expressed that someday he hopes to go back with his to the spot where he crashed. He feels it will help him grieve the body function he has lost.

As for the Duluth Fire Department, they said Avenza is still a new tool so they are working on getting numbers down as to how many calls a year they respond to, however, the app continues to be a success.

They did mentioned they've used it dozens of times since 2016.

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Jessie Slater

Evening Anchor and Reporter

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