Station 5 stays ready for rescues in high places

       The crews at Fire Station 5 train constantly for those 35 to 40 times a year when people get lost or hurt in the city's open spaces.

Tim Hylton of Fire Station 5 climbs a route at the Garden of the Gods during a recent rescue training session. Below are fellow Station 5 firefighters/rescuers Jeff Frater (blue helment signifying he's a paramedic) and Brad Witham.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Capt. Steve Watz, along with firefighters Josh Webb, Dale Lewis and Tim Krantz talked about the “high angle rescue” aspects of their job as part of a presentation at the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center Feb. 22.
       In addition, Lewis led a discussion on trail safety - providing details on planning hikes, useful items to take and what to keep in mind during such outings.
       One of three high angle stations in the city, Fire Station 5 is the closest station to the Garden of the Gods and often called there for rescues. But despite the Garden's steady flow of technical climbers - not to mention the potential risks of that sport - only two or three times a year do such people need emergency help, Watz reported.
       The majority of climbing rescues involve illegal “scramblers,” he said. A city ordinance, noted on signs throughout the park, forbids climbing without equipment any higher than 10 feet. “But the rocks are very inviting,” Watz said. “People can't help going up on them.”
       To be ready to get people down from high places, the station's 15 firefighters have to know how to ascend them. That's where the training comes in. In addition, the station packs about $10,000 worth of climbing and rescue equipment on each of their vehicles, Watz said.
       To be qualified for high angle rescues, a firefighter needs 40 hours of initial training; after that, they need 20 hours a year of refresher training to keep that certification. At Fire Station 5, the average is closer to 100 hours, Watz said. They practice rock climbing and ice climbing, simulating various rescue conditions. They've worked on climbing up the inside of the Seven Falls elevator shaft, in case that system ever fails.
       Calls for open space emergencies don't always require high angle knowledge. Many cases simply involve aiding and carrying out hikers or bikers who've slipped and fallen, Watz and Webb pointed out.
       Being rescued is not cheap. Watz said the average cost is $2,591. Police may issue a $500 ticket for scrambling, but otherwise city taxpayers pick up the bill.
       (That may change, City Fire spokesperson Cathy Prudhomme said, when asked about the issue afterward. A “process and parameters for recouping costs” is being worked out by fire officials,” she explained. “It is CSFD's intent to charge for all such incidents in the near future, once they have completed their work on this topic.”)
       When going on a lengthy hike, Lewis' recommendations included a list of “essentials,” including food, appropriate clothing for the conditions, first aid, a knife and/or multi-tool, duct tape, medicine as needed and a map or other reference tools to avoid getting lost.
       Other items he mentioned were matches or a lighter, a flashlight, a stove, sewing kit, survival blanket or even a personal locator beacon.
       Overall, if you put something in your pack, “be sure it's something you know you might use,” Lewis said. “Don't just put it in there because you hear you're supposed to.”

Westside Pioneer article