Mike Hubred was working the night shift in a photo lab many years ago when he decided he needed something to keep his mind fresh.

So he made the obvious choice: become a volunteer diver and rescue worker for Hennepin County sheriff’s volunteer deputy program. Working side by side with the office’s licensed peace officers, Hubred and hundreds of others have handled everything from fiery car crashes to the I-35 bridge collapse.

Last year, 86 special deputies volunteered more than 23,400 hours that would have cost the sheriff’s office $552,105 to fill with paid personnel.

And these volunteers are no slouches. Their first year on duty is classroom and field training, and they must pass an oral examination, background check and psychological evaluation.

“These deputies are very well trained,” Sheriff Rich Stanek said. “They are airline pilots, physicists, military vets and homemakers. And they help diversify our ranks.”

Each special deputy contributes 192 hours a year. They can work in three divisions — communication and radio technology, mounted patrol and water and road support.

Possible assignments are extremely varied. Deputies can assist with dignitary details, patrol lakes and rivers, inspect watercraft, attend community events and parades or present safety information to the public at camps, schools, open houses and events.

Recently, special deputies helped search for a man who drowned in a Carver County lake. Deputies have also been assigned to assist in flood areas, including Hurricane Katrina.

“They are on call 24/7,” he said. “The deputies are a vital asset to our office.”

Special deputies wear nearly the identical uniform and badge as licensed deputies, but their name tag and badge identifies them as a special deputy. The deputies have limited statutory authority and don’t carry a gun. They are supervised by licensed deputies.

The special deputies are still held to the same policies and ethics as sworn deputies. “They are very serious when they wear the badge, and the public doesn’t really differentiate between volunteers and paid deputies,” he said.

Uniforms, training and any equipment are paid for by the sheriff office foundation, which is made up of donations and also funds a youth law enforcement program.

People volunteer for the deputy program for many reasons, Stanek said. Some may want to get a taste of law enforcement work before considering a career in the field. Others work water patrol because they live on a lake and have a stake in the neighborhood.

And there are a few like Hubred, who work full time for the sheriff’s office and then spend time volunteering. He is an information technology supervisor during the day and has the rank of lieutenant with the special deputies division.

“Being a deputy goes way beyond my normal day,” he said.

Stanek has special deputies that have been serving for 40 years and one deputy who is 70 years old. When the Federal Aviation Administration said his office needed a licensed commercial pilot to operate their drones, he recruited airline pilots to become special deputies.

He compares the special deputies to the old days when somebody would rob a bank and the sheriff would gather 10 people and deputize them to help search for the criminal.

Many of the deputies volunteer to give back to the community, but they “don’t necessarily want to stare down the barrel of a gun,” Stanek said.

“Community outreach and engagement is a huge piece of what they do,” he said.

Hubred, who has volunteered for years, recalled assisting during the I-35W bridge collapse. He and his wife had just sat down for dinner when he turned on his television.

“I told my wife I had to go,” he said. “But I couldn’t tell her when I would be back.”