HURRICANE – Search and rescue teams from across Utah met at Sand Hollow State Park Saturday to begin two days of training as a prelude to the Utah Sheriffs Association conference in St. George Monday.
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Videocast by Mori Kessler, St. George News
“This is the first time we’ve done this,” said Washington County Sheriff’s Lt. Nate Brooksby in reference to large multi-agency search and rescue training in Southern Utah. Nate Brooksby acted as the incident commander of the grounds operation portion of the training.
Search and rescue teams, or SAR teams, in Utah are run under the umbrella of the county sheriff’s offices. While there may be sheriff’s deputies who serve on SAR teams, many of the team members tend to be volunteers.
The Washington County SAR team is currently composed of 73 members, 72 of which are volunteers. The only paid member on the team is Deputy Darrell Cashin who serves as the Washington County Sheriff’s Office SAR liaison.
County sheriff’s offices and SAR teams represented during Saturday’s training included Washington, Emery, Tooele, Summit, San Juan, Sanpete, Morgan, Uintah, Weber, Wayne, Kane, Sevier, and Duchesne. Also participating in the trainings were members of the Utah Highway Patrol Public Safety Dive Team, Life Flight helicopter, Classic Lifeguard helicopter out of Page, Arizona, Sand Hollow State Park rangers, Zion National Park rangers, and paramedic students from Mohave County Community College.
Trainings for the day were split into two parts: ground operations involving GPS training, and diving exercises.
Tony Brooksby, a member of the Washington County SAR dive team, oversaw the dive training. He said the dive training scenarios involved boat rescue, body and evidence recovery, and diver safety.
While talking to a group of SAR divers, Tony Brooksby stressed diver safety.
“It’s more about the safety of the diver than the recovery,” Tony Brooksby said.
SAR divers for Washington County have to be certified divers, Nate Brooskby said, adding that dive instructors have to be certified by the UHP Public Safety Dive Team.
Ground operations were a bit more generalized, Nate Brooskby said. Ground rescue scenarios involved individuals who may have fallen off a cliff, had a heart attack, or crashed an all-terrain vehicle somewhere in the sand dunes above Sand Hollow reservoir. Though the scenarios varied in their levels of complexity – some were fairly simple while others may have required a rope rescue team and an eventual call to Life Fight – each exercise required the participants to find the victim based on GPS coordinates.
“We want to encourage law enforcement, EMTs, and personnel that maybe weren’t familiar with GPS units,” Nate Brooskby said, “so we had a GPS class that went over the basics so they can at least enter the coordinates so we can get from point A to point B.”
Once the basics of the GPS were gone over, it was time to get to the exercises.
At the ground rescue staging area, Cashin put people from various SAR teams together and briefed them on the scenarios they would address.
Each team would head out on ATVs and off-highway vehicles toward the sand dunes with what medical supplies they could carry and, in some cases, limited information about what awaited them.
SAR teams try to anticipate the needs of a victim based on the info they receive, and sometimes that can be very limited. ATVs and individuals can only pack so many supplies, and what if the victim is found in critical condition? Taking them back by ATV may not be an option.
“It’s one of the reasons we wanted air support,” Nate Brooksby said. “So they can have that option if the injury is critical.”
The helicopters can also bring in necessary supplies the SAR team may not have been able to convey.
One simulated rescue was fairly uneventful and involved locating a woman who had suffered either a heart attack or dehydration. Like all the victims found during the exercises, the woman was a volunteer. In order to add to the simulated severity of incidents the teams are responding too, she and other volunteers had makeup and fake blood applied to them beforehand.
Another run into the sand dunes involved finding and treating a young woman who had crashed her ATV. While things got off to a good start, one of the OHVs, a four-seater, broke an engine belt while going up a large dune, thereby cutting the responding SAR team’s resources in half.
The remaining SAR team members continued on and were able to find the woman, who identified herself as 25-year-old Washington City resident Katie Zimmerman. Fake blood covered her head, neck and chest from lacerations caused by the wreck. She told the SAR team she had been going too fast while following a group of people ahead of her, then blacked out from the apparent crash.
Tending to Zimmerman’s injuries was Jesse Stout, an EMT/firefighter with the Hurricane Fire Department. He is also a paramedic student at Mohave County Community College. Aiding Stout were Chris Woodbury, a 12-year veteran of the Washington County SAR team, and Duchesne County Sheriff’s Deputy Carl Reilly. While they tended to the victim, Kyle Torgerson, of the Sevier County SAR team, contacted the staging area to request Classic Lifeguard’s helicopter be launched.
Classic Lifeguard arrived and Zimmerman was loaded in without incident, bringing the operation to a close.
Benefits of multi-agency training
“It’s a great experience,” Reilly said of the training. “It’s one big team. It’s great working together.”
If the trainings are held in Southern Utah again, Reilly said, “we’d definitely have my people down here.”
“The more you do it, the better you are able to work with people,” Woodbury said, adding that no two SAR calls are the same. The incidents are always different and working with someone from another team can help add a new perspective on how to handle things.
The SAR training continues Sunday, with the Utah Sheriffs Association conference being held at the Dixie Convention Center in St. George Monday.
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