Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 11, 2011

Lead-filled dummies

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:51 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Rescue Randy allowed me to sit on his lap while practicing my knots.

I don’t like Randy. He’s our 200-pound lead-filled dummy that we can practice lifting onto a litter and securing with webbing or tie-downs before transporting him to a waiting ambulance or helicopter. It’s an important simulation for our team, as conditions in real rescues are never neat and tidy, never easy, never quite textbook. Besides patient size, other variables such as desert weather, type of injury and ruggedness of terrain combine to make each one different and challenging. Search & Rescue is really just major problem-solving, often with a life at stake.

Our practice Friday was in getting a littered patient up a rocky ravine to the “ambulance.” It required ropes and pulleys (anchored to whatever juniper tree was handy) for safety back-up in the steepest parts, and constant communication with one another on the litter team as we’re trying to move a patient along while avoiding tripping and falling over the rocks and boulders strewn in our path. We all, including the patient, wore helmets; what does that tell you about the inherent danger of doing this?

Randy waits for lunch to be over before the 'rescue' can be finished.

Our practice Sunday took it to another level. We hauled Randy hundreds of feet up a 40-degree rock slope and then practiced getting him down to a waiting ambulance without anybody getting hurt. It required a complex arrangement of mainline rope and belay line, both with multiple pulleys and foolproof back-up systems in place, anchored to large boulders on the cliffside. All of us litter carriers were attached to the litter directly by our climbing harnesses, which carried the weight of the load while the haul team up top let us down in a controlled and careful way.

I’m beat. Three solid days of outdoor training, with wind constantly in your face and new skills stretching your mind, use a lot of physical and mental and emotional energy. It’s a good weariness, however, and I feel more prepared to help a rescue team if needed.



Personal Locator Beacons

Fishing for a signal with the PLB receiver

We climbed the only high sand hill nearby and held the signal receiver up, hoping desperately to catch even the faintest audible or LED input as to where our lost person might be. Its antennae were silent. Was it a battery issue in the transmitter? Was the high wind and cubic tons of sand in the air distorting the signal? Or were we just too far away?

18 Search & Rescue trainees from the park service and the local county were practicing finding someone using a PLB — Personal Locator Beacon. The increasing popularity of these devices requires that we know how to conduct a search if a distress call comes. Instructions on my government-issued PLB say that it is my last resort only… not if night is falling and I’m scared, but if life or limb are threatened.

Not a bank robbery. Needed kerchiefs to keep sand out of nose/mouth.

Last year in Canyonlands NP one of these PLBs had 52 activations (!!!) in a short time span — surely suggesting a major emergency requiring heroic rescue efforts. It was nightfall and the location was down on the White Rim, 1000 steep feet and many 4WD miles below the mesa, where jeepers and mountain bikers can get away from it all. A helicopter was summoned and night vision technology was used to locate the man. His life-threatening “emergency”? Burned-out clutch on his motorcycle.

PLBs have become the “yuppie 911.” Rescuers who risk their lives and limbs are not amused.

Found a dinosaur bone at training! Click to enlarge.

Nothing tops the party hiking in the Grand Canyon who activated their beacon three (3) separate times in three days for such emergencies as “drinking water tasted funny,” “running low on water,” “heard a scary sound.” They were physically removed from the Canyon after the third abuse. Unnecessarily mobilizing helicopters for dangerous, lifesaving rescues should disqualify you from ever being allowed to own or carry a PLB.

Grand County, UT, charges $500 to rescue people. Arches National Park currently charges nothing. Do you think PLB abusers should be charged for their rescue, in any location? Should legitimate victims be charged? What deterrent can you think of to keep people from pushing the panic button for idiotic reasons?

Blog at WordPress.com.