Vladimir Legoshin, rescuer

Vladimir Legoshin is known as the #1 rescue worker in Russia. He is the only living Hero of Russia among Russian rescuers (Legoshin’s colleague Andrei Rozhkov received this title post mortem, having perished during the testing of equipment at the North Pole).

Born on March 17, 1962, Legoshin graduated from the Moscow Energy Institute, then stayed on there to follow a promising career in science. Yet, at the same time he also continued to pursue his beloved hobby of alpinism. In the summer of 1991, conquering yet another peak in the Pamir chain, he met his future wife, Inga.

The turning point in his career came in 1988, when he served as a volunteer rescue worker for the Red Cross after the devastating earthquake in Spitak (Armenia). Four years later, in 1992, he and his twin-brother Andrei were among the first to join the newly-formed rescue team of the Ministry of Emergencies (known by the acronym MCHS). Legoshin felt called to be a rescue worker, both by virtue of his personal background and by the general situation in the country.

To improve his professional education, Legoshin studied at the Academy of Civil Defense, specializing in “Municipal Management in Emergency Situations.” He graduated in 1996. Two years later he took the post of deputy head of the Central State Airborne Rescue Squad (Tsentrospas) of the MCHS. The head of Tsentrospas was none other than his brother Andrei.

Legoshin said he would be hard-pressed to state exact statistics, but he does know that he has participated in no fewer than 300 major rescue operations, including the earthquakes in Neftegorsk, Iran and Georgia. He also had done work in Tuva and Yugoslavia. And after the horrendous 1999 earthquake in Turkey, Legoshin’s team saved more lives than the rescuers from 27 other countries combined.

Indeed, in 1999, Legoshin’s team took part in some 2,559 “sorties” to save people in emergency situations. The rescue work in Moscow, after bombs destroyed two residential buildings, was the hardest, Legoshin said. But then, this line of work is not for the weak-willed. As Legoshin admits, “Ninety percent of all rescue operations are a mixture of human flesh, often rotten ...” What follows? Chronic insomnia. It is thus not surprising that Legoshin is a chain smoker.

But then Legoshin has also had his lucky moments—meaning live rescues. During the bloody conflict in Abkhazia, he oversaw the evacuation of 2,500 people from the town of Tkvarchelli without a single shot fired. According to the head of the Far-Eastern Regional MCHS Center, Major-General Gennady Korotkin, during the floods in Yakutia Legoshin’s crew saved thousands of people in just one-and-a-half days.

Legoshin is also an innovator. He was the first in Russia to “train” rescue dogs to search for people under debris. His spaniel, “Lyonya,” has located over a hundred people. Legoshin also thought up the so-called “silent hour,” when both rescuers and equipment keep quiet to hear the calls from people trapped under debris.

The International Rescue Training in Austria in 1993, and in Iceland in 1997 and 2000, proved that Russia has a world class rescue squad. Out of the 400 workers of Tsentrospas, 11 boast the highest qualification degree: Rescuer of International Class. In fact, after September 11, Legoshin and his team were braced to fly and help at the World Trade Center, yet the offer of their help was declined.

Interestingly, Legoshin’s team does not only act post factum. They are also seeking to be pro-active: they recently climbed the Chersky mountain range in Yakutia to gauge the state of glaciers, so as to better determine the threat of future floods.

Unfortunately, Vladimir Legoshin’s profession seems to be in higher demand than ever before. Statistics clearly show that the number of emergencies, biological and ecological, are on the rise—and not only in Russia. Thankfully, there are devoted rescue workers like Legoshin and his team who not only are willing to risk their own lives to save those of others, but they are willing to do it for an average salary of just R3,000 ($100) a month.

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