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Mountain Search and Rescue Crews Learn Ropes

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Getting a fall victim out of a high-country wilderness area isn´t easy, but members of the Calaveras County Search and Rescue team are learning how to do it with a minimum amount of trauma for the patient.

Crews spent two days last week around the Highland Creek trailhead near Spicer Reservoir learning how to transport a non-ambulatory patient over rugged terrain, said Matt O´Donnell, an SAR volunteer and member of the Ebbetts Pass Fire District.

“It´s highly technical and there´s a high level of consequence if you don´t do it right,” O´Donnell said.

The weekend drill drew about 12 participants, who learned how to perform a low-angle rescue on Saturday. That typically involves a hiker falling off a trail or a car over an embankment.

On Sunday, crews learned how to do a high-angle rescue for a rock climber or hiker who has fallen down more vertical terrain.

It involves ropes and pulleys to get the patient up and down steep rock walls.

It takes a lot of equipment and a lot of concentration, O´Donnell said.

The members used a 160-pound dummy to simulate a victim n carrying, lifting and lowering it around and over boulders and sheer rock faces.

As if doing it in the daytime isn´t difficult enough, the crews also practiced in the dead of night since emergencies aren´t restricted to morning hours.

A night-time rescue requires more radio communication than a daylight operation.

It also gives you a higher stress level and more realistic sense of handling an actual emergency, O´Donnell said.

“There wasn´t much down time except for sleeping,” he added.

This was just one of several practices performed by the team of volunteers, which operates under authority of the Calaveras County Sheriff´s Department.

Last month they honed their skills at water rescue.

Upcoming drills include tracking, in which the team members will not only search a grid pattern on the ground, but also look for clues, such as footprints, to help them find a lost hiker.

“We´re practicing for anything we might encounter,” O´Donnell said.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Craig Koscho. For more Calaveras news, click: