It was all about communication and cooperation during this multi-agency training.
By Michael YEGHIAYAN
The Los Angeles County firefighters and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept. joined other agencies on Angeles Crest Highway last weekend to run a number of rescue exercises and build inter-department relationships. Exercises began on Friday and continued through the weekend.
The two agencies worked alongside the Montrose and Altadena search and rescue teams, and the United States Forest Service.
Along with running “over-the-side” training exercises, the sheriff’s department demonstrated the capabilities of their newest search and rescue helicopters that form the county’s Air Rescue 5 program. The three new aircraft, model AS 332L1 Super Pumas, help modernize the department’s fleet and improve the capabilities and response time for future operations.
“The old helicopters were 1960s technology, this brings us into the 21st century,” said Sergeant Burton Brink from the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s station. “This is much more cost efficient. It was difficult to get parts for the old craft. It is smaller in size and works well with all search and rescue teams.”
Search and rescue has been a major obligation of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. whose teams carried out 560 missions last year, which amounted to an increase of 10%. A large number of incidents involve motorcycles and other vehicles that have fallen over the side railing of the ’Crest.
The new craft will significantly cut down on department response times with a top operational speed of 170 mph. The helicopters are also slightly smaller and fly at a higher altitude than their predecessors. The Air 5 program is based in Long Beach.
The common themes among the agencies throughout the exercises were cooperation, communication, and the maximization of response time efficiency.
“It’s about fostering relationships between the agencies,” said Assistant Fire Chief Dean McGuire. “We get together and can better work as one big team. It makes everything run smoother.”
Because a number of agencies could potentially be the first to respond to an emergency situation, communication beforehand helps avoid confusion and time delay. L.A. Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Ron Larriva stressed the importance of similar training sessions and their potentially life-saving effects.
“Working together now improves our ability to cooperate in the future. There is an important synergy that must exist between the agencies,” stressed Larriva. “We are like a new football team; communication is important.”
After an incident, there is a “golden hour” that is critical for response time in a search and rescue operation. Because L.A. fire and sheriff’s departments use different equipment and do not necessarily share terminology, Larriva emphasized that communication between agencies before an incident is critical.
“It says L.A. County on our badge,” he said. “We have to come together outside of emergency incidents so that we can best serve the area.”