It's so easy to take for granted all those who respond to emergency situations.

Ambulance crews are like electricity. They're expected to be there, no matter the time of day or night, no matter the conditions. Instead of flipping a switch, those who urgently need medical care call 911. Within seconds, help is on the way.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

It happened again on a foggy Saturday morning about 2 a.m.

North Memorial Health Care responded to a call to transport a patient from the Douglas County Hospital to another medical facility to receive specialized care.

This time, however, something went wrong.

The helicopter crashed along Lake Winona, north of the Alexandria Municipal Airport.

The pilot, a flight nurse and a flight paramedic survived the crash and as of Monday, remained hospitalized at North Memorial Hospital in the Twin Cities. No patients were on board.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

The incident should invoke a jolt of appreciation from everyone in the community about how much we depend on ambulance crews and how we expect them to be there 24/7. It should open people's eyes to the fact that anytime ambulance personnel - in the air or on the ground - respond to an emergency situation, those involved put their lives on the line. Every time they go out on a call, they face risks - mechanical breakdowns, bad drivers on the road, less-than-ideal conditions and unexpected twists that can put their lives in peril.

The risk is real. There were seven air ambulance accidents across the U.S. in 2011 to 2013, which resulted in 19 fatalities, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. In 2010, the Wall Street Journal listed air ambulance at the most dangerous job in America. Thankfully, FAA initiatives and technological advancements are making headway in reducing the risks.

The incident also shines light on the task of rescuing the rescuers. Those who responded to the crash scene did an excellent job in helping the helicopter crew get the medical care they needed.

When the Douglas County Hospital was notified of the crash, it immediately activated its emergency response plan, calling in staff to assist in the response.

Carl Vaagenes, the hospital's CEO, said he was extremely proud of the response and performance from hospital staff and physicians who were working, and everyone who responded to the emergency. This included Douglas County Sheriff's dispatchers and deputies, Alexandria Police Department, Alexandria Fire Department, Valley Med Flight and Life Link.

In a statement, North Memorial also expressed its gratitude: "We would like to thank our fellow health care colleagues and first responders for their amazing response. ... We would also like to thank all of the health care professionals, EMS agencies, police agencies and fire departments for the support we have received from across the nation."

The community, in return, should also be thankful of all those who put their lives on the line to help save the lives of others.

• • •

Echo Press editorials represent the opinion of the Echo Press Editorial Board, which includes Jeff Beach, Editor; Jody Hanson, Publisher; and Al Edenloff, News/Opinion Editor.