Some positive upbeat news
Spider-Man, schmeider-man. In Alaska, the all-girl Dragon Slayers race to the rescue.
"After a bad call, we talk, cry and give a big group hug," says Patty Yaska (left, with harpoon, on the Kuskokwim River with other Dragon Slayers and the novice Lizard Killers).
At 10:20 a.m. on what passes for a balmy spring day in Aniak, Alaska -- 20 degrees, blinding snow -- Volunteer Fire Chief Pete Brown radios his emergency medical team to meet him at the home of George Peterson, an octogenarian who is struggling for breath. Minutes later, Brown, 57, and his colleagues arrive at Peterson's bedside. "What's wrong with me?" asks the frail man with congestive heart failure. "It hurts."
"We're going to give you some oxygen," Dione Turner tells him in a soothing voice. "It will make you feel better," promises Patty Yaska, hooking him up to the canister. Soon Peterson feels revived enough to banter with his rescuers and to notice that they are astonishingly young. As Patty and Dione, both 17, depart, he turns to his son Ray, who placed the 911 call, and asks, "Who were those girls?" Replies Ray: "They're the Dragon Slayers."
A team of seven high school girls, the angels of Aniak provide the only round-the-clock emergency medical care available to 3,000 people in 14 villages across an area the size of Maryland. At an age when many of their peers are obsessing over glitter eye shadow, these volunteer EMTs -- each of whom has 200 hours of medical and fire-safety training under her belt -- respond to 450 calls a year. The youngest Dragon Slayer, 14-year-old Erinn Marteney, pulled a toddler from a burning home the day after Christmas. Mariah Brown, 17 (Pete's daughter), was once bitten by a drunken man as she dressed his wounds. Team members have revived fellow teens who tried to kill themselves and grandmothers in cardiac arrest. They have rescued a villager who fell through ice, snowmobilers injured in collisions and survivors of small-plane crashes. "It really changes how you are as a person," says Erica Kameroff, 16.
Getting to the victims -- most of whom, like the Dragon Slayers, are Yupik Eskimos and Athabascan Indians -- is a challenge in itself: No roads connect Aniak, 350 miles west of Anchorage and surrounded by rivers, to the rest of Alaska. Through early May the team uses frozen waterways as thoroughfares, traveling in snowmobiles and four-wheel-drive vehicles. In warmer months, when the ice thaws, they often rely on boats.