Training exercise gets rescuers heli-busy | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Training exercise gets rescuers heli-busy

Rob Bhatt

Lake Tahoe Airport buzzed with activity Sunday as emergency response crews practiced the basics of airborne searches and medical rescues.

Helicopters from the California Highway Patrol, the Nevada Division of Forestry and a private contractor were the focal point at and around the airport during the six-hour training session.

In a morning exercise, Search and Rescue volunteers and rescue crews from the Lake Valley Fire Protection District, Lake Tahoe Ambulance Company and Nevada Division of Forestry practiced loading a stokes litter to the CHP helicopter for short-haul rescues.

Short hauls allow helicopter pilots to transport victims suspended from cables to a safe landing area. These types of rescues primarily take place in rocky or wooded areas where a safe landing spot is not immediately accessible.

Later in the day, John Kelly, owner of El Aero Helicopters of Carson City, shuttled about 15 Search and Rescue volunteers between the airport and Twin Peaks.

In this exercise, the volunteers took turns hiding among trees and rocks in the wooded area between the airport and Sawmill Pond while their colleagues in the helicopter tried to spot them from above.

“It was a lot of information on what we can do with helicopters,” said El Dorado County Sheriff’s Deputy Terry Fleck, a coordinator for Search and Rescue operations.

Not all the trainees were human.

Doug Wilson, a South Lake Tahoe building contractor and Search and Rescue volunteer, attended the training with his partners – his mule, Fred, and horse, Tigerman. Wilson and his animals are part of a Search and Rescue mounted unit. Wilson said the horse and mule needed familiarization with the sights and sounds of helicopters so that they will not spook if they are exposed to the flying craft during an actual emergency.

Fleck estimated that helicopters were used in conjunction with about 30 Search and Rescue operations last year in El Dorado County. Helicopters are brought in for searches and rescues primarily for victims in remote areas needing immediate medical treatment.

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