Training prepares emergency personnel for all-too-common scenarios.
By Mary O’KEEFE
Anyone who has driven the Angeles Crest and Angeles National Forest highways has more than likely thought about it. Going around those curves in the road, seeing the long drops over the side. It isn’t uncommon to think what if there was a car or motorcycle that came out of nowhere and the driver finds him/herself over the side of the highway.
That “what if” is exactly what this week has been about for search and rescue units for Los Angeles County Fire Department and their Urban Search and Rescue, the U.S. Forest Service, and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Altadena and Montrose Search and Rescue teams.
A total of about 60 members from a variety of agencies worked together on a drill that highlighted their techniques for over-the-side rescues. The drill also presented an opportunity for the teams to get to know each other and how they deploy their members and equipment.
“This is a multi-agency drill,” explained LACoFD Assistant Fire Chief Bill Nuccum. “This is a simulated over-the-side rescue. We have air [operations] with us as well.”
Helicopter units from L.A. County Sheriff’s and Fire joined in the rescue drill.
“Every team is committed to excellence,” Nuccum added.
With 66 miles of twisting roads in the Angeles National Forest, over-the-side situations are common.
“This is the third steepest vertical [mountain ridge] in the country,” Nuccum said. “The Grand Tetons are first, then the Eastern Sierra Nevada and the third is the San Gabriel Mountains.”
The purpose of the drill was to have the teams work together, as they often do now and will in future disasters. Each team has a different way of approaching the same emergency situation. Each is unique in deployment and the equipment they carry with them.
The drill began with a helicopter ride for two members that were lowered into a canyon; each team readied their rescue baskets and deployed members over the side. After they bring their victim up to safety, they go from station to station as members of specific teams explain what, why and how they deployed their methods.
Two invited observers took special note of how teams worked. Chris Pritchard, a member of a search and rescue team from the United Kingdom and Arjan Stam, search and rescue from the Netherlands, were there to see what information on techniques and use of equipment they could take back to their home countries.
“I work on a task rescue [unit] in the UK,” Pritchard said. “We are looking at different methods used [by the teams], digest what we see and take it back home.”
He deals with situations similar to those of California teams including over-the-side and large animal rescues in addition to swift boat rescues.
Stam and his teams face a little different challenge in the Netherlands. They respond to car accidents and are first responders with the fire departments.
“There are all kinds of different [responses] but everyone is doing the work,” Stam said. “We just try to figure out how to integrate [teams] to build trusts. We share procedures, build relationships and trust.”
During the drill, Stam and Pritchard said they were interested in how Montrose Search and Rescue used their winch in assisting team members in deploying and retrieving the victim rescue baskets.
Stam and Pritchard were in Southern California as part of the international task force of classifiers that observe and evaluate the California Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue Team from LACoFD.
The task force team has been deployed around the world to a variety of disasters, from earthquakes to tsunamis.
“They are deployed any time a country is overwhelmed by an emergency and needs help,” said Bat. Chief Ron Larriva. “Every five years [Task Force 2] must be recertified. These guys that are here observing are the best of the best.”
The LACoFD task force did pass the inspection and has been recertified.
The first day of the drill ended with L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Air 5 crew running through their procedures.
Larriva and Nuccum said they hoped this type of drill would be an annual event.