|Search and Rescue volunteers aren’t practicing here. One of their own members injured his knee on the mountain and rescuers pulled him out in a Stokes basket.|
TribPhoto/Heidi Dahms Foster
|Crews bring a volunteer “victim” up the mountainside during a rope rescue drill on Saturday at Sunset Point.|
TribPhoto/Heidi Dahms Foster
Special to the Tribune
Two hot air balloons filled with happy vacationers drift through the Bumble Bee canyon, giving riders a view of the beauty of the rugged terrain of the Bradshaw Mountains. Suddenly, the wind comes up, driving the balloons uncontrollably toward the cliff that drops down behind Sunset Point. The two collide. Ropes tangle and break, dragging the baskets and depositing screaming people into the rocks, cactus and ledges along the cliff area.
Black Canyon City firefighters, along with 10 other Arizona fire agencies and search and rescue groups used this scenario Saturday to hone their rope rescue skills.
Dept. of Public Safety officer/paramedic Russ Dodge, who is a water and rope rescue instructor for DPS and Rescue 3 International, along with Rick Barns of the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, coordinated the training. Teams, many of them volunteers, knew the scenario when they arrived, but they had to put all their skills into action to pull off the "rescue."
"We just told them what information they would have when responding to an emergency," Dodge said. "They had to prioritize which people to bring out first and how to do it with a rope system, or move the people to the system they had set up. That's triage, you figure out what you can do to save the most lives."
This scenario isn't one that emergency crews encounter only in mock drills. Superstition Search and Rescue responds to as many as 160 emergencies each year in the Superstition Mountain, Picacho Peak and Florence areas. In the Mingus Mountain area this spring, rescue crews saved the life of a woman whose car had plunged 1,000 feet off the mountain. She received serious injuries, and a hiker who heard her cries notified 911. Rescue crews, some of whom had graduated an extensive rope rescue class just three days prior, spent four hours on the side of the mountain in the darkness bringing her out.
Once the teams arrived at Sunset Point Saturday, Capt. Cougan Carothers of Central Yavapai Fire District managed the operation. He said Dodge had personally walked the "victims," many of them search and rescue volunteers, into their places on the cliff in the chilly morning air.
After a safety briefing, the crews, in three teams, made their way down the steep slope through cactus, rocks and treacherous footing to their victims. They asked detailed questions to assess injuries and number of people involved. They searched the area and stabilized the injured. Some of the crewmembers then returned to the top of the hill to figure out how to rescue the victims.
Over the next several hours, crews worked to carry Stokes baskets (stretchers) down the slope, load the injured inside and carry them out. They helped others walk to an evacuation area where crews could help them up the mountain.
The work was dangerous and exhausting. A fully loaded rope rescue tool belt can weigh 40 pounds, said one search and rescue volunteer. And moving around on the steep mountainside took constant vigilance. Even so, one volunteer injured his knee. Crews took the mock victim out of the Stokes basket and hauled the real injured out. Fortunately, Dodge said, the volunteer didn't have to add an ambulance ride to his day's adventures.
Superstition Search and Rescue volunteer Jim Ballard played a victim. He said it helps him empathize with those he rescues. "It could be you. You're walking along, you twist your ankle and you're just stuck. (Volunteering as a victim) plays into that urgency for you. It gives you inspiration and builds up your adrenaline to help."
Another volunteer, Tara Wagner, said being a "victim" for the first time hit pretty close to home.
"I was a little scared, but it was definitely exhilarating."
She said it was difficult to relax and let the emergency crews do the work.
"It was hard to be tied to the basket, it felt helpless."
When the day was over, Dodge declared the training a success and said he was impressed with the professionalism of the crews and the dedication of the numerous search and rescue volunteers.
Agencies participating in Saturday's drill included Black Canyon Fire, Central Yavapai Fire, Maricopa County Search and Rescue, Superstition Search and Rescue, Sonoran Search and Rescue, Jerome Fire, Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, Arizona Dept. of Public Safety, Verde Search and Rescue, and Yavapai County Search and Rescue.