During this 20th year anniversary of 9-11, it would be great to hear from First Responders, about their back country emergency true stories.
Here is my back country emergency true story:
“To lead others during a back country technical rescue.”
It was a cool, partly cloudy Saturday mid-afternoon in Post Falls, Idaho.
It was also a great time of year, during the early 1980’s, to get away from the chores at home, and go cut firewood and camping with friends in Coeur d’Alene National Forest, as many were doing this Fall weekend.
However many of my chores had piled up over the past month, and I chose to stay home and make headway on yard maintenance, before the first snowfall of the season would typically occur.
I was in the back yard of the home, concentrating on the task of raking pine needles on the ground into large piles, when my Back Country Medical Rescue Team pager gave out it’s dual alarm tone, followed with a voice command, “BCMRT….Call the Com Center”.
Calling the 800 Com Center number, of which is located in Boise, I was alerted that Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office requested our team be activated, and respond to a location off East Bunco Road, north of Hayden Lake, where it was reported, a vehicle had driven off the road and down a ravine, with an injured driver still in the vehicle.
The Sheriff’s Office, local Volunteer Fire Department and Ambulance EMT’s were in route to the scene.
Confirming I was responding to the call, I immediately departed from home to our team’s base of operation at Kootenai Memorial Hospital, in Coeur d’Alene.
Upon arriving, discovering I was the first team member responding to this emergency, I unlocked and opened our equipment storage locker at the Hospital’s Emergency Room Entrance foyer, and transferred 2 team climbing packs, 6 throw rope bags, medical pack, stokes litter, and my personal 24 hour “Go Bag”, into our team’s 4WD EMS Suburban, stationed next to the ER Entrance.
This mission specific emergency response vehicle was funded though a Kootenai County grant, awarded to the BCMRT in Couer d’Alene, to provide Advanced Life & Technical Rescue Support for the Kootenai County Sheriff Office’s SAR, outlying County Fire Districts and EMS Ambulance Services, as well as be of service to the other 4 counties’ LE, SAR and EMS agencies in the North Idaho Panhandle.
Once all of the the equipment was secure in the Suburban, it became obvious I was the only team member responding to this call.
Each previously medically trained EMT, Advanced EMT, Paramedic, LPN, RN, and ER Physician, BCMRT member was professionally trained, field tested, and certified in all aspects of technical mountain rescue, by Emergency Medical Services of Idaho.
Once rolling code 3 (lights & siren), I radioed the Com Center, indicated I was about 25 minutes to arrival at East Bunco Road & Hwy 95, and to provide me a patient update from the scene.
After driving for a few miles on East Bunco Road, it took me another 5 minutes of traveling on a winding single lane dirt road to reach the scene of the accident.
Upon my arrival, already on scene, were emergency personnel from the Sheriff’s Office, local Fire Department and Ambulance Service.
The patient was stabilized, being treated for a possible neck and back injury, a minor laceration, abrasions, and in the process of being extricated from the vehicle, soon to be placed on a backboard next to the wrecked vehicle, and await for evacuation up the ravine and onto Kootenai Memorial Hospital.
The road at the scene was blocked from both directions, with emergency vehicles, preventing any on coming vehicles from entering the accident scene.
The steep hillside location of the accident was wooded with white pine, tamarack and cedar trees all around, with a thick undergrowth of what we called “dog brush”…. young tree saplings about 4’ to 6’ tall.
The patient’s vehicle had traveled off the dirt road, plowed a path about 75’ down through the dog brush and came to a head on sudden stop, after hitting a large tamarack tree.
Once parked and outside of the Suburban, I was updated on the patient’s condition, assessed the situation and recruited all available roadside emergency personnel to assist with the technical rescue.
I was the only responder trained and certified in technical rescue.
It was now my sole responsibility, to be sure all of the technical rescue systems were set up and managed correctly.
Since the road was blocked from oncoming traffic, I selected several live trees across the dirt road, from of the the vehicle’s path down the 60 degree slope, to secure the rope systems, need for the rescue.
I retrieved, assembled and placed into position the stokes litter, climbing packs and rope throw bags on the road, above the downward pathway created by the descending brush crushing vehicle.
Using six 10’ x 1” red nylon overhand and retraced knotted tubular webbings as slings, I secured each around separate close quartered trees, with pairs of opposite and opposing oval carabiners.
One group of 3 slings would be for the descent and ascent of the stokes litter and another group of 3 slings would be for a belay of the stokes litter.
I ran one of the 11mm kernmantle dynamic nylon ropes through the series of paired carabiners and completed a 3 point equal tension anchor system, utilizing a double figure eight knot, two additional oval carabiners and connected a third locking carabiner, from the knotted figure eight to the stokes litter’s multi-carabiner brake system.
I ran another 11mm kernmantle dynamic nylon rope through the remaining paired carabiners, setting up the second 3 point equal tension anchor system with a double figure eight knot, an additional two oval carabiners, and fastened another locking carabiner from this system’s double figure eight knot, to a belay sticht plate.
The working end of a separate 11mm descent/ascent rope was run through the multi-carabiner brake system, with slack, then wrapped to the head rail of the stokes litter and secured in place with a double bowline knot and an overhand knot safety.
The working end of a separate 11mm belay rope was run through the sticht plate, with slack, then wrapped to the head rail of the stokes litter and secured in place with a double bowline knot and overhand knot safety.
Four kernmantle dynamic nylon prusiks were each looped and secured to the head and foot of each side of the stokes litter side rails.
I selected, equipped, demonstrated, and instructed 4 similarly sized emergency personnel, to each fashion and secure for themselves, a 6’ x 1” blue nylon knotted tubular webbing, with a locking carabiner, as emergency seat harnesses.
Each would position and secure themselves accordingly, to the prusiks on the front and back sides of the stokes litter, utilizing their second locking carabiner, providing standing and walking motion stabilization of the stokes litter.
The estimated total load weight to the rope rescue system, of the 4 emergency personnel, patient and stokes litter was approximately 1000 lbs.
I supplied the stokes litter team with a 50’ X 1” blue nylon tubular webbing to “shoe lace” and secure with an overhand knot, the patient on the backboard, into the stokes litter. I also sent along my climbing helmet, to protect the patient’s head during the ascent.
I selected, demonstrated and instructed another emergency responder to perform belay for the stokes litter team, using the sticht plate and incorporated 11mm belay rope.
Instructing all, I shouted and defined the call signals, and response call signals to be communicated during the rescue: “On Belay, Belay On, Off Belay, Belay Off, Slack, Up Rope, Climbing, Climb On, Falling! and Rock!”
The newly recruited stokes litter team would have a fast learning curve, to coordinate slow walking together, while communicating with me, to walk the stokes litter backwards, across the dirt road and down the 60 degree slope to the patient’s location, as I systematically lowered them, using the multi-carabiner braking system, and were given slight slack, by the belayer.
A twin set of dual rollers were secured at the ravine’s edge, to provide edge protection for both 11mm ropes.
Once the stokes litter team was lowered to the patient’s location, and the “Belay Off” signal was given, the backboard supported patient was secured into the stokes litter on the ground.
The stokes litter team once again secured themselves back into the standing position with the stokes litter and secured patient on board.
By that time, I had changed out the multi-carabiner brake system to a 3:1 mechanical advantage multi-pulley system, including the required 2 prusik looped brakes.
I recruited, demonstrated and instructed 4 additional emergency personnel to systematically, and repeatedly, pull the 11mm stokes litter rope slowly and repeatedly in 6’ increments, whereas I would reset the dual prusik brakes each time they completed a 6’ ascend sequence.
Within a few minutes, the stokes litter team and patient were safely brought up the 60 degree slope, walking the patient loaded stokes litter up onto the level dirt road.
The stabilized patient and supporting backboard were then transferred from the stokes litter to an ambulance gurney and transported to Kootenai Memorial Hospital, to be treated for his injuries and recovery.
The entire technical rescue evolution, from my arrival to ambulance departure, occurred within 1 hour.
I thanked all of the members of the Sheriff’s Office, local Volunteer Fire Department and Ambulance Service for their valued assistance with the technical rescue and proceeded to break down and repack all of the gear into the Suburban.
I radioed the Com Center in Boise, to advise the mission was completed, and I was returning to our base of operations, to reorganize and stow the team’s equipment, at Kootenai Memorial Hospital.
Once back home, I entered the response into our team’s Incident Log, took a shower, changed clothes and decided the piles of pine needles could wait another day, to be gathered, bagged and put in the trash.
Marc Lewis Boykin
Since we are discussing technical rescues as well....
One fine day some years ago, our rescue group (SARA) was alerted to two people in the bottom of a mine shaft near Tucson. I happened to be first on the scene and immediately rappelled to the victims, about 100 feet down. They had been stuck there for about two days, along with their vehicle, which they had driven into the shaft in the darkness.
First aid was trivial. One had a fractured/sprained foot which had self splinted and needed only minimal attention. My companion soon joined me and the next step was extrication. We talked to fellow members topside and soon a rope descended...
accompanied by astounding rockfall. We were sheltered inside the vehicle, a station wagon nose down in the pit, with a sheltering tailgate under which we sought refuge. I discussed the situation with the topside crew, stressing that we needed the evac rope to clear of the sides of the shaft, a situation we had never before encountered, having dealt with open cliffs and caves, all of which are far more stable than many mine shafts.
in due course, a rope again descended from above, clear of the sides of the pit. My buddy and I ascended without incident, each of us tethered to a victim. The system, developed on the spot by the upper team, was a standard 3 and i hauling system, with an adjustable pulley which could be moved about to suit the situation. I believe the team still uses the basic system to this day. The ascent was delightfully rock free.
Just before I tied on to the ascent rope, my victim told me that he had a firearm in an ankle holster. This being Tucson and the Wild West, I didn't think much of it until we reached the surface and I saw his companion spread on the hood of the deputy's vehicle, preparatory to his arrest. He soon followed suit.
It developed that the two had burgled a University of Arizona laboratory and while sneaking away, lights out, had driven into the nearby mine shaft.
I am pretty sure pima County jail has never housed more thankful guests.....
Our motto is rescue first, and arrest later, if necessary. This is not the only time when we have saved bad guys.....