SAR pushes towards ‘wilderness medicine,’ rescues continue on Kolob Road

ST. GEORGE – A new medical certification program is helping the Washington County Sheriff’s Office better aid residents who are injured in the backcountry or in remote communities of the county, Sheriff Cory Pulsipher told the Washington County Commission Tuesday.

Washington County encompasses 2,500 square miles, and the Sheriff’s Office is now licensed in the state of Utah as a medical provider, Pulsipher said, one of only two similar programs in the Western states.

“We’ve seen some huge, huge benefits  just recently in the last month with some of the Search and Rescue calls,” Pulsipher said.

The department is training more and more for ‘wilderness medicine,’ Deputy Darrell Cashin said, which involves backcountry medical skills – using minimal equipment to stabilize an injured person and get them out of the backcountry safely.

“The main reason we really did it is … we were getting to the victims a lot quicker than EMS. A lot of them were in areas that nobody can access – you have to rappel in,” Cashin said.

“So difficulties in accessing the patient were delaying their treatment … we felt that this was the proper move to get medical treatment to them quicker, and make a better determination of how to extract the patient,” he said. More training also helps responders decide how quickly a patient needs to be transported – whether there is time to carry them out, or if a medical helicopter was needed.

Wilderness medicine requires using all available resources, even if that means using two sticks to stabilize an injured person’s joint so they can walk out, rather than be carried. “When you’re hiking in that far … you have limited space,” Cashin said.

Washington County Sheriff's Office Deputy Darrell Cashin, St. George, Utah, April 21, 2015 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
Washington County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Darrell Cashin, St. George, Utah, April 21, 2015 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

The Sheriff’s Office was licensed as an Advanced Quick Response agency Oct. 1, 2014, Cashin said. While the new designation and the training it took is primarily for Search and Rescue, it is also intended for other deputies who work in remote parts of the county, Cashin said.

“We have embedded EMS into Search and Rescue,” Cashin said, and are training deputies as emergency medical responders.

Until now, all the deputies have been through a basic level of emergency medicine training, but this is “the next level up,” Pulsipher said.

“We figured the best thing to do was to take people we already have that are trained to track, trained in GPS, trained in high angle, and teach them medical, rather than take medical personnel from other agencies … and try and teach them how to do the backcountry stuff,” Cashin said.

Kolob Road rescues continue

Pulsipher said Search and Rescue continues to rescue people in vehicles stuck on the Kolob Road between Kolob Reservoir and Cedar City. The unpaved road, which begins north of the reservoir, is at around 8,000 feet of elevation and is snow-packed and impassable for much of the winter.

“For some reason, GPS (units) want to tell people that they can drive from across Kolob Reservoir to Cedar City. So we have lots of people go up there and try and follow their GPS; and all of a sudden find themselves stuck in the snow,” Pulsipher said. “I don’t know why they don’t stop before they go into the deep snow, but they continue on.”

The Sheriff’s Search and Rescue responded to three Kolob rescues so far this month, Pulsipher said. Of the 40 or so rescues so far this year, Cashin estimates that 10 of them were on the Kolob road.

Washington County Public Works Director Ron Whitehead said he will get a “Road Closed” sign made for the Kolob road, and get it up as quickly as he can.

“If I’d have known they were having that much fun up there, I’d have had (the sign) up there before now … ,” Whitehead said. “It won’t stop all of them, but at least it will give them a warning that says the road is not open.”

Other business

The Commission approved an agreement with the Bureau of Land Management St. George Field Office to share the costs of hiring a BLM real estate specialist for three years, at an annual cost to the county of $15,000.

A realty specialist is needed to help facilitate land exchanges needed and the acquisition or property within the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, as needed to complete the Habitat Conservation Plan.

“This is a really critical part of getting our HCP agreement renewed, and getting these exchanges to happen, because you just can’t imagine the red tape you have to go through to do a simple exchange with BLM, so this is really important to us,” County Administrator Dean Cox said.

Three purchase requests from the St. George Convention and Tourism Bureau were approved: $225,000 for an annual contract for television advertising in Southern California, $18,000 for ads in Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche publications, and $21,000 for ads in the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche and Denver Broncos yearbooks. The purchases were all budgeted items.

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