AITKIN COUNTY, Minn. — Two protesters who climbed into an Enbridge pipeline at the Willow River crossing in Aitkin County — and who endured temperatures near 130 degrees with reduced oxygen — were rescued and taken into custody.
In a news release, Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida said the two individuals had climbed inside the east end of the pipe Sunday, July 25. The pipe itself was capped at one end, which created a trapped air environment for the two people who had climbed inside. The trapped air inside the pipe was estimated to be near 130 degrees with reduced oxygen concentration.
A firefighter, wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus and harness, entered the pipe to attempt to remove the two people. The self-contained breathing apparatus allowed for 30 minutes of air in the tank, Guida said. The firefighter reached the people in roughly 15 minutes, but they refused to exit with him and remained in the pipe with their gear, according to a press release by the Northern Lights Task Force. Having used 20 minutes of air, the firefighter signaled other emergency personnel and was pulled back to safety outside the pipe.
A member of the law enforcement team then donned self-contained breathing apparatus gear and entered the pipe. When he reached the two people in the pipe, he noted they were wearing respirators but were exhibiting signs of fatigue and heat stroke. One of the two announced they had 3.5 minutes of oxygen left in their respirators. After numerous attempts to assist them in leaving the pipe voluntarily, the team member signaled there was only 5 minutes of air left. Because the people still resisted leaving the pipe, and air was running out, force was used to rig the individuals with ropes so the exterior crew could pull them out to safety.
Upon exit, both people were treated by an ambulance crew for abrasions sustained by contact with the pipe and oxygen and heat related issues. Once stabilized, a 21-year-old Michigan man and a 20-year-old Northfield, Minn., woman were taken into custody and booked into the Aitkin County Adult Detention Center. The matter has been turned over to the Aitkin County Attorney’s Office for possible charges.