Friday, January 31, 2014

Private partner helps public agencies in rescues

Numerous organizations collaborate to provide search-and-rescue services

Express Staff Writer

The Sun Valley Heli Ski helicopter occasionally helps public agencies complete effective search-and-rescue operations in the Blaine County region. Photo by Roland Lane

With its helicopter, new radio tower and upgraded radio system, Sun Valley Heli Ski has partnered with a wide array of local fire and search-and-rescue teams to provide a top-notch rescue program.

For more than seven years, Sun Valley Heli Ski has collaborated in a nonprofit backcountry ski rescue program involving the use of its helicopters to help those who have been hurt in dangerous and remote areas.

“We’re providing a service in which we work with other fire departments and search-and-rescue teams,” Sun Valley Heli Ski Business Manager Tyler Ferris said. “We have a quicker tool that can expedite critical emergency transportation very quickly.”

Ferris said that when an accident in the backcountry occurs, the incident commander decides the approach for the search-and-rescue mission. Snowmobiles can also be used in certain rescues, but Ferris said those can be limited because they are on the ground and do not have the same level of mobility.

Last winter, the rescue system was effectively utilized when a man suffered a compound leg fracture in the backcountry. According to Ferris, the man would have been in danger of having his leg amputated if it weren’t for the helicopter rescue that occurred.

The rescue system requires a great deal of cooperation from a vast array of different organizations. Sun Valley Heli Ski currently works with the Ketchum/Sun Valley backcountry search and rescue team, Blaine County Search and Rescue, Galena Backcountry Ski Patrol, the Blaine County Consolidated Emergency Communications Center and the Reeder Flying Service. Earlier this month, some first responders trained in protocols for how to work around the Sun Valley Heli Ski helicopter.

“It’s important for people to know that not one agency can do it all,” Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle said. “Cooperation is key among all local agencies to provide the excellent level of care that we are able to provide.”

Elle said the department’s firemen are required to spend one day a month on technical training for search-and-rescue missions. He noted that 71 percent of the calls the department receives are for emergency calls that include rescue missions, while the other 29 percent are for building fires.

     Elle said that under extreme circumstances in remote locations, they can request the Idaho Army National Guard to come in with a hoist, allowing the helicopter to pick someone up without landing.

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