By Tom Vines
Published Friday, August 1, 2008
| From the August 2008 Issue of FireRescue
In a bizarre twist, what began as an informal investigation of a small wildfire rapidly escalated into a helicopter rescue. The April 27 incident began when an off-duty Kern County (Calif.) Fire Department battalion chief happened upon a small grass fire along Highway 178 near the Kern River Canyon, approximately 30 miles northeast of Bakersfield, Calif. The chief saw what appeared to be a man trying to extinguish the fire with his jacket. When the chief approached the man to speak with him, the man jumped over the edge of the cliff and into the canyon.
The chief immediately notified 911, and at 1015 hrs, the Kern County Fire Department dispatched Battalion 4, Engine 42, Patrol 42 (a Type 4 engine) and Truck Company 41. The fire, which was approximately 10 feet by 10 feet, had been extinguished by the time additional fire units arrived.
The first units arrived on scene at 1034 hrs. They located the man approximately 80 feet down the canyon near a pathway and just above the river. They took a narrow, winding path down to the man, expecting the worst. But when crews reached him, they were surprised that he was not seriously injured. He was conscious, alert and oriented, with no obvious signs of trauma.
The man’s dive had taken him over a cluster of rocks, and he landed in a grassy knoll, and then rolled for a short distance.
The firefighters/EMTs provided initial care for cuts and abrasions, immobilized him on a spine board, and packaged him in a basket litter.
The rescuers now had to determine how to extricate the patient from the canyon. The questionable footing and the danger of falling on the narrow, winding path would endanger both the patient and firefighters; consequently, command decided to call in the department’s hoist-equipped Helicopter 408.
The helo hovered over the rescue site, lowered the rescuer and basket stretcher on the hoist and then orbited nearby as rescuers packaged the patient in the litter. The helo then returned, hovered over the site and hoisted the patient and rescuer into the aircraft. The helicopter is equipped with a Goodrich wench with 300 feet of cable. During aircraft operations, the hoist is limited to 600 lbs.
H408 and crew then flew to the mouth of the canyon, where there was a suitable landing zone. They landed the helo and transferred the patient to a waiting Hall Medevac helicopter for transport to Kern Medical Center, where he was admitted with minor injuries.
After treatment, the patient was placed on psychiatric hold. There was no explanation for why he jumped in the canyon, but the man is considered a possible arson suspect, according to the Bakersfield Police Department.
All fire units cleared the site at 1208 hrs.
Sources: Sean Collins, Kern County Fire Department public information officer, provided information for this report. Some additional details were taken from the Bakersfield Californian.
LESSONS LEARNED/LESSONS REINFORCED:
When determining the best way to extricate a patient, rescuers must weigh the risks and benefits of helicopter operations. In this case, it would have been too dangerous to carry the patient up the narrow pathway, as there would have been significant danger of the litter team and patient falling. Further, the helicopter had a sufficient margin of power, the weather conditions were clear with no high winds, and the helicopter would spend only a brief period completing the operation. Thus, command determined that a helicopter operation was the safest bet.
Kern County Helicopter H408 is a Bell 205 Super Huey, which has been fitted with an engine from a Cobra Helicopter. (Some of the KCFD fire personnel refer to it as a “Huey on steroids.”) In addition to its rescue-hoist and night-vision capabilities, the helo is fitted with a water-dropping tank of 400 gallons, which is refillable via a dropped suction hose in less than 25 seconds.
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