Paul Smith’s VIC hosts search and rescue training

PAUL SMITHS – The Paul Smith’s College VIC recently played host to a multi-agency search and rescue training excercise.

Eighteen first responders from seven organizations participated in the Joint Agency Exercise on Feb. 22. It involved locating an injured person using GPS coordinates, assessing the individual for injury, treating the person as appropriate and transporting him or her to a waiting EMS rescue squad service.

The agencies that participated included Search and Rescue of the Northern Adirondacks (SARNAK), state Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers, Adirondack Amateur Radio Association, Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad, Paul Smiths-Gabriels Volunteer Fire Department, Franklin County Emergency Dispatch, and staff from the VIC.

“This was a great exercise at a great venue, and we want to thank Brian McDonnell and his staff at the VIC,” SARNAK training officer Frank Schmidt said in a press release. “The VIC has an extensive trail system, which we were able to use to kind of ‘hide’ our injured volunteer. Once our patient was in place they used a cell phone to call 911 and ask for help.”

Using the the Franklin County 911 system, the dispatcher contacted the DEC rangers and was able to give an approximate GPS location of the phone call, Schmidt explained. Once received, the GPS coordinates were plotted, and the patient’s location was marked on a topographical map. That map was then compared with the VIC’s trail system map, giving the first responders a good idea of where the person was and how best to get to them.

A key component of the exercise was to make sure all involved agencies had a communication link to the incident. Generally that meant radio communication, but it also included limited use of cellphones. An elaborate communication network was set up and tested by the Adirondack Amateur Radio Association using their mobile emergency communications bus.

Once online, the team in the field could relay position reports and patient assessment information back to the command center at the VIC lodge and on to the Adirondack Medical Center where there was a radio operator in contact with medical control. The Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad was standing by at their base available to respond in the event the injured person needed transport. The Paul Smiths-Gabriels Volunteer Fire Department also provided a field emergency medical technician and a scene safety officer, as required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

So how did it go? Adirondack Amateur Radio coordinator Barry Brogan, who was also acting incident commander, said personnel lost communications with the field team for several minutes at the beginning of the exercise while they were switching some antennas. After that, communications ran well.

“The patient was located where we thought they would be, and the team did a great job of assessing, treating and packaging the patient,” Brogan said. “We worked with some new equipment the DEC is just deploying which helps keep hypothermia patients warm and stable during a carry-out. Ranger Tom Edmunds provided guidance on the packaging and getting the crew set up in the carry-out system. The real value in a drill like this is getting several agencies that are likely to work together in a real scenario to train together and get used to each other and each other’s equipment and capabilities.”

The day ended with a debrief by all involved and some great chili provided by the VIC. A summer version of the JAE is in the works.

More information is available at sarnak.org and, for amateur radio emergency communications, at adkara.org.