By Jason KUROSU
The Angeles Crest Highway is both 66 miles of scenic road cutting through the Angeles National Forest and the training grounds for several local emergency response personnel, as illustrated by the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s “Over the Side” Rescue Drill. Over three days this past weekend, multiple agencies took part in a safety drill which addressed an all too common problem with Angeles Crest’s winding roads and steep ridges: motorists going over the side of the mountain.
Among the participating agencies were the Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue, the U.S. Forest Service, Montrose Search and Rescue and Altadena Search and Rescue teams and LA Sheriffs.
Three volunteers served as victims down below mile marker 30.16 on the highway, lowered by helicopter into the brush to be “rescued” later by the coordinated efforts of over 50 emergency personnel. With the help of choppers, gurneys and dogs, the “victims” were found and extracted.
L.A. County Sheriff’s Air Rescue 5 helicopter and L.A. County Fire’s 412 helicopter took two groups of volunteer victims down into the forest that morning, providing the agencies involved with multiple opportunities to perform simulated collaborative rescues.
The two helicopter units lowered victims, rescue workers and canines down, later pulling them out of the forest via cable. Search and rescue teams retrieved other victims from the wilderness below using the winches from their trucks, the victims held stable in victim rescue baskets. Highly trained canines with GPS collars helped sniff out the locations of victims shrouded by plant life.
Los Angeles County Battalion Chief Ron Larriva gathered the personnel to go over the plan for the day’s drills and also emphasized the collaboration necessary for successful rescues.
As the various groups involved stood before Larriva, he told them “By the end of the day, I don’t want to see what I see right now.” The different groups were standing in easily discernible groupings around Larriva, a veritable pie chart by uniform color, yellow for Firefighters, red for search and rescue, etc.
“Everyone’s going to be working together,” said Larriva.