These are my stories as a volunteer member of the Sheriff's Search & Rescue team in Coconino County, Arizona. I'll share what it's like to go from a beginner with a lot to learn to an experienced and, hopefully, valuable member of the team, as well as the missions, trainings, and other activities along the way.
About Coconino County
About Coconino County
Encompassing 18,661 square miles, Coconino County, Arizona, is the second largest county in the U.S. but one of the least populated. Our county includes Grand Canyon National Park, the Navajo, Havasupai, Hualapai and Hopi Indian Reservations, and the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world. Elevations range from 2,000 feet above sea level along the Colorado River to 12,633 feet at the summit of Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff.
January 30, 2010
A Severe Out-Of-Bounds Injury
The victim was fortunate, though, that he was accompanied by three friends, one of whom stayed with him while two went for help. And luckily, Ski Patrol personnel were still on the mountain. They quickly came to the aid of the injured snowboarder and packaged him in a sked. While Search and Rescue was en route to the scene, we were in contact with these first responders, who kept us apprised of the victim's condition and their progress down the mountain.
In the meantime, a large group of us SAR volunteers deployed the snowcat and three snowmobiles. In the snowcat were a driver, a co-pilot/navigator, and five others, including myself and two Guardian medics, one of whom is also a SAR volunteer. The plan was to get us as far in as possible in the 'cat and then for some of us to continue on foot (on snowshoes, of course) to rendezvous with Ski Patrol and the victim.
Eventually, the snowcat began to get bogged down in very deep snow, so the five us in the back got out and snowshoed to lighten the load. We caught up to the snowcat when it could go no further and then three of us continued up-slope, as the sun set and the glow of the full moon permeated the fog. Despite the task at hand, I couldn't help but notice what a beautiful evening it was on the mountain, a far cry from conditions during our last rescue during the blizzard.
Soon, our whistle blasts were answered by Ski Patrol, and we veered left towards the sound. Then my teammate spotted our moving target, making fast downhill progress with the aid of a rope attached to the sked. We'd heard they'd had to make several technical lowers along the way.
Time had been of the essence from the beginning, but now rescuers were even more concerned about the patient's condition. The three of us SAR folks could see from above that Ski Patrol wasn't about to stop for us to catch up but instead were heading towards the lights of the snowmobiles, which had stopped well short of the snowcat due to a mechanical issue. So we radioed the 'cat and told them to go back the way they'd come to meet Ski Patrol and the victim further down. We then snowshoed as quickly as we could to rendezvous with the whole group and got there soon after Ski Patrol and the snowcat connected.
The victim was alert but in agony. There's just no painless, gentle way to bring someone down a mountain. Not with that kind of injury. Add to that the fact that his leg was too deformed to put on a traction splint, and you're talking one extremely miserable patient. And it was too cold to administer IV fluids or painkillers, so he had to wait till he was loaded into the back of the warmer snowcat. I later heard, though, that nothing touched the pain, and every slight bump or lurch of the snowcat made him scream--which was constant, I'm afraid.
My teammates and I on snowshoes walked out as the snowcat delivered the patient to a waiting ambulance.
All in all, the mission went very well and quite fast (though I'm sure it seemed like an eternity to the victim), thanks in large part to the coordinated effort between Ski Patrol and SAR.
See the article in the Arizona Daily Sun.
(Image credit, top-right: Wikimedia Commons / CC 2.0)
In other news....
Thank you to my recent supporters for the Himalaya Rescue Dog Squad Nepal Book Project:
Gary Brown of Backpack The GrandCanyon
Joy Pathlethorpe from RedGage
Bob Braudy, SAR volunteer
Deborah Bothe, SAR volunteer and runner for Team in Training
and Nancy Shepherd, author of My Own Hike
Thanks to you and the others who've already pledged, the project is now 25% funded. There are still 67 days left for the project to reach its goal. (Please note that if the goal isn't met, none of the pledges will go through.)
You can read my updates about the project and pledge on my Kickstarter page. For a $50 pledge, you'll receive a signed copy of the book, a CD slideshow from Nepal, and more.
Wow, that's quite a story - how much medical gear did you guys have? I guess a femur traction splint is too specialized.
Actually, quite a few of us on the team do have Wilderness First Responder medical training (as well as some EMTs and paramedics), and traction splinting is taught in WFR.
Also, some--possibly all--of the Ski Patrol folks who responded that night had medical training and were capable of doing the splinting as well. But the patient's leg was too deformed, so I heard, because of the knee involvement, so a traction splint wasn't possible in that backcountry setting. So he was securely packaged and evacuated as quickly as possible.
On our SAR team, though--we're authorized to do Basic Life Support and some minor splinting, but we don't have a medical director. So, personally, I'd want to call Incident Command for permission before doing anything outside the scope of BLS or "minor" splinting--meaning, I'd want to radio or call for permission before applying a traction splint to a patient with broken femur.
This is a fascinating story. I'm an avid snowboarder and a firefighter/EMT in Colorado, so I can certainly relate to the difficulties you and your crew experienced in reaching the patient and in administering IV fluids and meds.
On a side note, I was born in AZ and lived in the state for the first 27 of my 33 years. I attended college at NAU from 1994 through 1999, and lived in Flagstaff from '94 through 2001. I remember some winters were excellent, while others were not so great.
Thanks for your message. Well, some folks would consider this a great winter--we had 4-plus feet of snow within a few days (twice as much on the Peaks) and just got some more--while others think it's the pits! Either way, it sure is beautiful.
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