- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) - The multiple agency firefighters gathered in the shadow of Scout Mountain on Tuesday were deadly serious. In groups of four they rehearsed the procedure for loading an injured person aboard an Idaho Air National Guard helicopter.

Everyone participated.

The Air National Guard conducted the helicopter emergency rescue training exercise with local emergency response agencies at the Nordic Center up Mink Creek. The Bureau of Land Management, Fort Hall Fire Department, Bannock Country Search and Rescue and Snake River Hotshots, among others, participated.

Greg Burch, the head Fire Management Officer for the U.S. Forest Service in this area, said the training was valuable.

“We want to be able to retrieve injured people in rugged terrain,” Burch said.

However, the fire management official said it’s important to realize that helicopters are machines that can fail, and weather conditions can keep them grounded.

“We always need to be focused on safety,” he said.

National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Ted Clemens was giving the area firefighters explicit instructions on how they insert personnel with the help of a cable hoist and then extract victims.

As the groups of firefighters brought a stretcher to the helicopter on the ground, Clemens was sure to tell them an Air Guard member would always keep a hand on the shoulder of the first person in the crew to keep them clear of the rear rotor of the helicopter and make sure everyone was safe.

Everyone practiced the routine in groups of four with the helicopters not running. Then the action began.

Two UH-72 Lakotas were deployed for the Tuesday exercise. Once their engines had the blades churning the air and they were launched, things became exciting.

For ambulance and medical evacuation missions, the cabin of the Lakota chopper can accommodate two stretchers, plus one crew chief who is qualified to operate the hoist and other aircraft equipment, and one medical attendant.

To simulate rescue operations, both of the Air Guard helicopters dropped a person to the ground to provide triage and assist ground crews and then pulled a stretcher with a dummy back into the air for transport to a medical facility.

The roar of the helicopter engines and the sight of someone dropping to the ground on a hoist cable made the scene seem like a real rescue mission.

“This training is important,” said Lynn Ballard of the U.S. Forest Service, who is the public affairs officer for the Caribou-Tyhee National Forest.

“This is the first training of the year for the firefighters, and it gives the Guard a chance to get relevant experience,” Ballard said. “It gets rid of some of the rust.”

In 2012, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter activated more than 100 Idaho National Guard troops to participate in fighting the massive Trinity Ridge wildfire in central Idaho. A part of the response unit was a UH-72 Lakota, which was based in Pine, Idaho, just in case medical evacuations were needed.

Tuesday’s helicopter rescue operations were just part of a week-long event to give emergency rescue people and firefighters a chance to hone their skills before the fire season kicks in.

Ballard said this level of training only happens about every other year, and next year it will be taking place in the Boise area.

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Information from: Idaho State Journal, https://www.journalnet.com


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