(Originally published March 2018)
Seventeen-year-old Madelyn Adamski and her father Jason made the long trip from Sauk Rapids, Minnesota to Orange on Thursday for a very special reason. Jason is a volunteer with the Sauk Rapids Fire Department and Madelyn grew up around the fire department. The trip to Orange was the culmination of a journey that Madelyn had begun three years ago.
Madelyn had overheard how the fire department had issues with some water rescues because the propellers of the department’s boats would hit obstacles in the water.
“He’s been on the department for my whole life so they’re my family as much as I am theirs, and you know you want to keep your family safe,” Madelyn said. “And if they didn’t have the right equipment that they should’ve had, then, they need it.”
Now today, Madelyn, Jason and Joey Henkemeyer, a fellow firefighter here for training on the boat, are picking up a brand-new airboat from American Airboat. They’ve been working with the owner, Faron Floyd and office manager Sandra Navarro for about a year now.
After overhearing that conversation when she was 14, she had told her dad she was going to make it happen, and then set out to get donations for an airboat for her dad’s fire department.
Being a volunteer fire department, their funds were slim, and airboats are not cheap. The Sauk Rapids fire department had only an inflatable boat and aluminum boat at their disposal. Joey and Jason mentioned the challenges of rescues on the Mississippi River rapids back home.
“At least twice, by the time we’d gotten the rescue victim in the boat, we couldn’t even get back to shore because either the propellers were hitting the rocks, or we’re stuck.”
Jason said he’d had to wade into the freezing Minnesota water to pull the boat to shore, then trudge the boat up onto the snow.
“We’re the land of 10,000 lakes,” Joey said, describing a culture rich in ice. “Sometimes the ice isn’t thick enough and you go in.” In those instances, no truck or even ATV can safely rescue the person. An airboat allows a rescuer to safely go in and save a life.
Madelyn went to work fundraising and going to local businesses in her small town for donations. Word of mouth quickly spread and before long she was getting anonymous checks in the mail. She and her dad did the research on airboats and pitched the idea to others. Madelyn treated it like a job, fitting in around her busy school schedule. Before long a couple of social clubs donated $10,000 a piece after listening to Madelyn’s pitch.
Jason found American Airboats online after narrowing the search down to three companies. He ran into roadblock after roadblock before speaking with Faron. Other dealers either wouldn’t answer his call, provide him information, and some flat out refused to help him. One wanted $3000 to come to Minnesota to demonstrate a boat.
But once Faron heard the story of Madelyn’s fundraising efforts, he sent an employee at his own cost to demonstrate the boat in Sauk Rapids. He rallied his vendors and employees and, once they heard what was going on, everyone wanted to help.
“We build rescue airboats that go all over the world capable of handling ice, mud, snow, dry land or 100 feet of water, doesn’t matter, the airboat can go anywhere to rescue,” he said. “When you can put it in the hands of somebody who can go save other peoples’ lives, I have the utmost pride in that and my team has the utmost pride in that.”
“I talked to him sometimes at 10:30 at night while he was giving his children baths,” Jason said, talking about what he called their exemplary customer service that convinced him American Airboats was the way to go.
Now a senior, Madelyn is captain of two culinary teams, and had to fit this trip in around state competitions. At one point she was cooking under the head chef of the Seattle Seahawks, at the Taste of the NFL event in Minneapolis. She wants to go to culinary school for two years, then go for business and marketing degree, and then open her own restaurant.
Neither Jason nor Madelyn had any idea what the airboat would look like. Faron wanted to keep it a surprise until they came to Orange.
“I was like, Holy Cow!” said Jason, describing the fire engine red boat with Sauk Rapids Fire Department emblazoned on the side.
“I didn’t know they were going to put my name on it. It was really cool.” said Madelyn. Her name, Madelyn Rae, is written in script on the front of the boat.
“I think at the end of the day, it’s whatever headline you want to see in the paper, like firefighter dies trying to save somebody else or somebody lives because we had what we needed.” Madelyn said. “It did take three years because I had a lot of other things, I had school. But at the end of the day, if you want to do something, then you should just do it. “
Madelyn’s endeavor raised $78,000 in donations for the airboat.