Iron County Ropes Team assists in rescue missions

Iron County Ropes Team apprehend a boy out of Kannaraville Canyon, Kannaraville, Utah, May 2013 |Photo courtesy of Mike Gibbs, for St. George News

IRON COUNTY — The Iron County Ropes Team, developed by the Iron County Sheriff’s Office five years ago, is one specialized force in the Southern Utah and Nevada areas that is trained to assist in rescues of persons caught in situations unreachable by some regular search and rescue teams, Iron County Ropes Team Leader Mike Gibbs said.

“(In) most counties, the technical rescue or ropes team are part of the search and rescue, but in Iron County we have a separate technical rescue team,” Gibbs said. “The Sheriff made this change about five years ago because he felt his needs were not being met in this area. A technical or rope rescue can require a lot of skill and knowledge that takes consistent training and practice to keep on top of it, and can quickly be deadly if a mistake is made.”

Iron County Ropes Team prepares a boy for life flight after they apprehended him out of Kannaraville Canyon, Kannaraville, Utah, May 2013 |Photo courtesy of Mike Gibbs, for St. George News
Iron County Ropes Team prepares a boy for life flight after they apprehended him out of Kannaraville Canyon, Kannaraville, Utah, May 2013 |Photo courtesy of Mike Gibbs, for St. George News

Iron County has a good search and rescue team, but because it covers a variety of other incidents, the team does not have the time or ability to train enough for what a ropes team can provide, Gibbs said.

The team currently has members from search and rescue as well as deputies from Iron County Sheriff’s Office, road divisions, jail, emergency medical services and crews from Cedar City Fire Department.

“First addition to the team was Iron County Ambulance personnel, this gave (the sheriff) a larger pool to pull from and added medical and paramedics to the team, greatly increasing the care available for the patient during the technical rescue,” Gibbs said. “A short time later, the sheriff thought it would be good to have some law enforcement on the team so it was opened up to deputies.”

Cedar City Fire Department members have recently joined the team, he said, and although the department does do ropes rescue, its area is limited and the department has been directed more often toward road rescues, fire or hazmat incidents.

The idea of the team is to have the best technical team available. The team is willing to help anywhere it can access in a timely manner as long as money is not limited or there is not another need nearby. Kane County and Lincoln County, Nevada, are among those who have sought assistance from the Iron County Ropes Team outside of Iron County, he said.

“Sheriff Gower is very dedicated and passionate about making sure anything he is over as sheriff is covered and the best he can make it,” Gibbs said. “When he felt the technical rescue did not meet his standards he pursued changes to make it better, and in doing so took that load off the search and rescue.”

Life flight carries a boy with a broken ankle out of Kannaraville Canyon, Kannaraville, Utah, May 2013 |Photo courtesy of Mike Gibbs, for St. George News
Life flight carries a boy with a broken ankle out of Kannaraville Canyon, Kannaraville, Utah, May 2013 |Photo courtesy of Mike Gibbs, for St. George News

A most recent rescue, the team attended to was for a couple in their 40s to early 50s who were unable to make it off of some red rocks near Yankee Meadows, near Parowan, on their own.

The wife was able to make it down the rocks, but by a different way in which she and her husband had originally climbed up, Gibbs said. She was able to flag down a car passing by for help.

In the process of coming down the rock, the wife had lost her husband and he became unable to make it down to her on his own. The Iron County Ropes Team strapped him in a harness and were able to bring him down by rope attached to another person, Gibbs said.

“Anytime someone off-road gets stuck and can’t walk out from where they climbed up that’s when we get out to help,” he said. “We have had many rescues out of Kanarraville Falls.”

The canyon height that is hiked to the Kanarraville Falls, has a high water level that has proved to be difficult for many to get out on their own after a big storm, he said. In May 2013, the ropes team apprehended a boy who broke his ankle and was unable to walk out of the canyon.

Life flight responded to the incident, but due to the tightness and heights of the canyons, it was unable to make it to the boy’s location. The ropes team aided the boy to the top of the canyon where life flight was able to get to him.

The team has attended to two body rescue cases and a dog rescue within the year, Gibbs said. A dog was stuck in a hole near Parowan Gap, which Parowan Fire Department was unaware of, and the ropes team was able to provide aid and rescue the dog.

“We are a unique ropes team,” he said. “We attend to any situation we can be of help in.”

The team’s first priority is that the team members are not hurt and second, that the victim is not hurt. Gibbs said a lot of people, who need assistance from the team, climb up a steep area that they think is easy but then stop and get nervous.

“If you don’t think you can get back down don’t keep climbing,” he said. “Climbing up is easier than climbing down. People need to be smart.”

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