Last weekend, five area fire departments and Deerfield Valley Rescue held a joint off-road rescue training exercise at the Howe Farm. “It’s something we haven’t done for quite a while,” said Wilmington Fire Chief Ken March. “We’re trying to hold more regional mutual aid training.”
March says his department, like others, holds its own off-road training twice per year, once for ATV season and once for snowmobile season. March says his department responds to about six off-road incidents per year. “There have been only two so far this year, but with more snow on the way, we may begin to see more calls. This weekend should be a beautiful weekend for snowmobiling.”
Typically when a call for off-road help comes in, the caller doesn’t know their exact location. Sometimes callers aren’t sure which town they’re in and, while 911 dispatchers do their best to narrow down the location, the potential search area can be vast.
Whenever possible, March says, multiple departments will respond to a call, each approaching from a different direction. Wilmington is the primary responder for snowmobile incidents in Searsburg and Somerset. March says his department will often approach the scene from the Somerset end of Airport Road, while Wardsboro will go in from Airport Road’s intersection with Stratton Arlington Road. Not only does it help narrow the search area quickly, it puts more rescue equipment on the scene. “Sometimes off-road equipment can be a little finicky,” March notes. “To ensure that we can respond, it’s a good idea to have some redundancy.”
Saturday’s training included scene safety and security, proper operation of the off-road equipment, and medical operations. “We wanted everyone to see the proper way to do backboarding and the proper way to remove a helmet without further injury,” March says.
Attendees also learned about the physiological consequences of being out in the cold. “Sometimes there’s a half-hour or 45-minute response time for an off-road rescue,” March says. “When it’s very cold, that can be a major hurdle; you may have to rewarm a patient.”
Rescue personnel also got a chance to drive the snowmobiles with laden trailers to practice getting their patients safely out of the woods. “We also put people in the back so they can see what it’s like from the patient’s viewpoint.”
More than 40 firefighters and rescue personnel from around the valley participated in the joint training exercise. March says West Dover firefighters provided coffee and breakfast sandwiches for the group. And the Howe Farm’s high visibility location along Route 100 brought honks and waves from passersby. “It was a good weekend.”