Breckenridge: Flight for Life, search and rescue & ski patrol team up at weekend conference
Ryan Summerlin September 18, 2011
BRECKENRIDGE – When a hiker gets lost in the backcountry, a rock climber gets stuck in a tricky spot or a skier gets caught in an avalanche, search and rescue and ski patrol organizations statewide promise to be there to help. Thanks to nonprofit organization Flight for Life, they’ll be there with a helicopter and what one medic called an airborne intensive care unit. “We bring a fairly strong medical set to a call,” Flight for Life flight medic and part-time Copper Mountain ski patroller Kevin Kelble said. “Then we are trying to combine the expertise of search and rescue, ski patrol and avalanche rescue to utilize that helicopter as the link between the two.” This weekend Flight for Life, search and rescue and ski patrol organizations from all over Colorado came together in Breckenridge for a conference aimed at strengthening the partnership, expanding on and learning best practices and keeping lines of communication open between the two sides of emergency rescue operations. “If we can get these guys in to do their job, we can do our job and we blend them together as a team,” Kelble said. “That’s really the key is that you have to have this strong team approach. A lot of this conference is building teamwork, coming up with new ideas.” The Flight for Life-sponsored conference – now in its second year -included a number of skills stations, organizers said, giving rescue personnel opportunities to practice tactics with hands-on training sessions.”It’s a way for Flight for Life to help assist search and rescue and ski patrol, Conference organizer and Flight for Life spokesman Bill Spialek said. “To show them what resources they have available to them by using our services.” The partnership between Flight for Life and rescue organizations began in 1992 in Summit County when Flight for Life started its avalanche deployment program with the ski patrol teams of the county’s four ski resorts. Time is a critical factor in successful avalanche rescue operations. Minutes mean the difference between life and death for victims trapped in the snow. Flight for Life started the program armed with a fleet of high-alpine helicopters – aircrafts light enough to ascend to high elevations and capable of maneuvering to difficult-to-reach locations, putting rescue personnel and dogs on the ground quickly. “We can get into elevations where a lot of the other air medical services cannot,” Spialek said. In 1996, Flight for Life added the lift ticket program, which allows rescue personnel to ride on the helicopter to the search scene, where they will be unloaded. While the search is in progress, the helicopter returns to a base area and picks up medics who are ready when the victim is found. The helicopter then transports the patient, who is being treated en route, to the nearest hospital. The Flight for Life program has now become a model for similar air-medical programs in other states, representatives said.