Drill Preps Firefighters For Sunny Brae Forest Rescues

Mad River Union Staff Report

ARCATA – Once the Sunny Brae Forest is public-ready, with new trails and repaired crossings, users will flood in to take advantage of the forest they worked to hard to acquire, preserve and enjoy. With the influx of users will inevitably come situations, even emergencies.

Arcata Fire will likely be called into the depths of the SBF just as it has been with the Arcata Community Forest, and when that happens, it won’t be anything new to the department.

Friday, Arcata Fire and Cal Fire cooperated on a simulated accident in the new trail system in the Sunny

Brae area. The incident was reported as two trail crew members injured by a fallen tree while working on the trail. One injury was reported as minor and the other as major. The call came in via 911 call with no further directions.

A City of Arcata employee was sent out to the trailhead to meet emergency responders. Captain John Evenson and Firefighter Dmitri Sakkis met the city worker and received a report of two injuries, one minor and one major, approximately one mile in on the trail. Evenson and Sakkis – also known as crew E8211 – requested a full response and helicopter for a medivac.

CalFire Copter 102 out of Kneeland was dispatched to the scene. Crew E8211 carried equipment into the scene (medical gear, Stokes basket, backboard and vertical pick harness) and made patient contact after a 20-minute hike.

Captain Evenson arrived at the patients’ location to find one patient with minor injuries and a second patient pinned down by a large tree.

Using the assistance of the CalFire High Rock Crew, they were able to free the injured crewmember and begin patient care. GPS coordinates were used to inform the chopper crew of the incident location.

A plan was developed to extract the major injury patient using a hoist on the helicopter. Rescuer Matt Stark was lowered down to the patient and the patient was packaged for a hoisting operation.

As the helicopter hovered overhead, the downdraft created high winds which were estimated at 60 mph. The high winds caused tree branches and tree tops to fall from the sky as the two agencies worked together to extract the injured.

The scenario took place in a deep narrow canyon with a high tree canopy. This location was intentionally chosen for the drill because of its remoteness and challenging attributes. “This was a great drill for all agencies involved,” said Arcata Fire Battalion Chief Sean Campbell. “We could face this scenario any day as a result of an injured trail member or mountain biker using the trails. The crews that responded to this drill did an outstanding job and worked very well together. CalFire’s Emergency Communication Center did an outstanding job coordinating the response from both agencies. We were able to access and extract the patient within 45 minutes from time of call. Battalion Chief Dernedde and I intentionally set this drill up to pose significant challenges to all responders and they prevailed with nothing less than success.”

Following the hoisting operation for the one major injury, ground crews walked the patient with minor injuries back to the trailhead.

Battalion Chief Campbell stated, “We appreciate the City of Arcata for allowing us to conduct this drill. These drills are vital in our ability to take a proactive stance on training and emergency response preparedness for our community. This drill provided a very realistic scenario that could happen any day. All agencies involved learned a great deal and we look forward to working on plans for our next drill.”

Environmental Services Director Mark Andre applauded the drill. “This rescue drill was very realistic and I hope that it is never necessary to airlift a worker or recreationist  from the remote parts of the community forest,” he said. “CalFire and the Arcata Fire Protection District displayed great rescue capability with this practice exercise in a hard to reach wildland location.”

“We’re trying to push everyone’s limits,” Campbell said. “It’s never cut and dried in the real world. There are always those unexpected challenges.”



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