Fort Lewis-based Company A

Fort Lewis-based Company A, 5th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment supporting Mount Rainier National Park climbing rangers- Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army, Steve Harding

Visitor Protection

National Park Service Rangers and US Park Police (USPP) not only enforce the laws that protect people and the parks, but also can be called upon to respond to emergency medical incidents (EMS), structural and wildland fire calls and search and rescue (SAR) missions, often times in cooperation with local county or State entities. While search and rescue in the park is a function of the Ranger Division they can also gain assistance from the Park’s helitack crews, as well as other park personnel.

Aviation’s Role in Search and Rescue (SAR)

The NPS provides for SAR for persons within NPS areas and assists local agencies through mutual aid agreements. The NPS responds to approximately 4,500 SAR incidents that include from 50,000 to 100,000 personnel hours annually. Incidents range from searching for lost hikers to performing complex technical rescues in high altitude, mountainous environments. Various types of technical equipment and vehicles are used to perform these jobs including: computer-based SAR programs, satellite technology, snow vehicles, and watercraft.

Aviation Elements in SAR

Aerial Reconnaissance—While some Parks have their own aviation assets, others depend upon Military, State, County or other cooperators to provide aircraft that will assist in aerial searches for missing or injured visitors.

Deployment of Search Personnel—Aircraft can be used to bring rescuers closer to victims. The most common method would be to simply ferry searchers to the search site by airplane or helicopter.

Shorthaul insertion at Denali National Park

Shorthaul insertion at Denali National Park

Insertion—Some park programs and the USPP are trained and certified to perform shorthaul, rappel, power on landing and/or hoist which can all be used to insert rescue personnel once a victim is located.

Another option for the pilot and rescuers is a Single-skid, Toe-in and hover Exit/entry Procedures (STEP) if they have trained and been certified to do so. In a single skid procedure, the pilot brings the helicopter in to a point as close as possible to the victim and touches one skid or wheel down while still maintaining lift with the blades. The rescuer then exits the aircraft without it ever completely landing and administers aid or prepares the injured person for extraction.

US Park Police helicopter transporting patient

US Park Police helicopter transporting patient

Extraction/Transportation—If the victim is in an area that will present danger to the rescuers trying to use ground rescue methods, the helicopter and crew can perform shorthaul, rappel, power on landing and/or hoist for extraction. Victims can either be transported via aircraft to the nearest hospital or to a landing zone to be transported by ground.

Spotlight On—Grand Canyon National Park SAR

Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 4:21 pm | Updated: 4:36 pm, Tue Jul 12, 2011.
Swooping in to the Rescue

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. - An emergency medical technician from Grant County dropped in—literally—to pluck an injured Hot Shot firefighter from the steep, rocky terrain of the Las Conchas wildfire in New Mexico. Bree Myers, a medevac EMT, is in her second season working for the National Park Service. She is part of a helitack crew that responds to accidents and emergencies on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. At the time of the July 2 mishap, however, Myers had been assigned to a stint on the New Mexico wildfires, and her helitack crew was managing a dip site near where the accident occurred.

Grand Canyon helicopter prepares for a shorthaul medevac.

Grand Canyon helicopter prepares for a shorthaul medevac.

According to the incident report, the man who was injured was working with other firefighters to prepare lines for a burnout. When some large boulders broke loose from the steep hillside, crew members yelled a warning to those below, but the man was among several whose view was blocked by oak brush. They managed to avoid the first boulder—the size of a Volkswagen Beetle—but a second rock measuring about 2 feet by 2 feet struck him. He was pinned until another crew member was able to push the rock off.

EMTs responded to the scene to give aid, and prepare him for transport on a backboard. Officials first called for an ambulance but then switched to request a helicopter “short haul mission.” Short haul is a method in which a rescuer and medical equipment are harnessed to a cable or rope, 100–150 feet long, and attached to the helicopter for short, emergency transports. The Park Service craft, suited to such maneuvers in tight situations, and its crew were brought in to retrieve the injured man from the mountainous terrain.

From the helicopter’s landing spot, Myers was lifted into the air, connected by a long cable to the helicopter. The craft carried her above the treetops and lowered her to the accident site. Ground crews helped hold the man and backboard stable in preparation for transport; then the helicopter lifted both the injured man and Myers into the air and back to the landing site. From there, the man was put inside the helicopter and taken to a trauma center in Santa Fe, N.M., with Myers accompanying him.

Myers' parents—Scott and Shelley Myers of Canyon City—first heard about the rescue when their daughter texted them. Shelley said they couldn't quite grasp it—that their daughter was the one dangling in the air like that—until they talked by phone a day or two later. They said she was one of two crew members who were trained for that role. The other also was trained as a spotter—a required post—and Myers was not, so she got the job at the end of the cable. It was exciting for all involved, the parents said. “She was pretty pumped,” Scott said.

It didn't really surprise her parents to see her involved in this kind of operation. She’s well trained, they said, and thrives on the challenges and excitement of the job. “She loves adventure,” Shelley Myers said, adding, “she gets all that daredevil stuff from her dad.” Myers was trained as a Forest Service rappeller before taking the Grand Canyon helitack job. Now 24, she is a graduate of Grant Union High School.