Monthly Archives: July 2013

Simulated Plane Crash Keeps Rescuers on Their Toes

KUSA’s Matt Renoux came to Operation Rocky Slope, a plane crash simulation at the Loveland Ski Area in Clear Creek County, to cover the regional full scale exercise, a plane crash.  Matt diligently spoke with exercise planners and agency representatives and filmed select segments of the exercise.  Below is the content of his report, which you can also see on the KUSA site at

Loveland Ski Area-It’s only a training exercise but organizers hope it will make rescue personnel faster and safer in a real emergency.

On Saturday emergency responders trained at the Loveland Ski Area. They hiked up to a simulated plane crash scene and helped a number of volunteers who played the part of victims.

While plane crashes are rare Simulation Organizer Max Khaytsus says the hope is to prepare for a worst case scenario with a full scale exercise aimed at keeping rescue personal safe and speedy.

“It would be a very bad thing to have happen pretty much anywhere but over the past couple of years we have had a number of incidents where planes have crashed, some where people walked away some, where it wasn’t as good and Clear Creek Emergency Management asked us to run a simulation for them with a plane crash in the mountains just so they are ready and their resources are ready to respond to an incident such as this,” said Khaytsus.

Saturday’s exercise brought in volunteers with the Community Emergency Response Team, (CERT), Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and the Salvation Army.

We appreciate the time given us by KUSA and the positive report supporting volunteer driven rescue services.

Operation Rocky Slope

Back on Friday, October 2, 1970, a Martin 4-0-4 aircraft carrying 37 members of the Wichita State University football team and three crew crashed just east of the continental divide along I-70. There were only nine survivors.

A friend of mine used to be a member of the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group and back on October 2, 1970, his team was the first one to reach the crash side on the north side of the highway, almost directly across from the Loveland Ski Area. He said that when they arrived, the fire was so hot that molten aluminum was running in a stream down the side of the mountain. They helped the victims who were outside of the aircraft, but there was nothing they could do for those on the plane itself. The fire was so hot that they could not even approach the plane.

Plane crashes are not all that unusual along I-70 at the continental divide. The highway cuts through the mountain beneath the ridge of the divide and pilots who are not familiar with the area, often using the highway system as a landmark, get into trouble if they are flying too low. I-70 at the continental divide is a box canyon that requires a rapid altitude gain of almost 2,000 feet to clear the ridge and many pilots attempt to turn to buy time to achieve the altitude gain, but that does not always work. The Martin 4-0-4 “Gold” flight was a victim of this exact problem.

Fast forwards 43 years. As a part of our annual objective of hosting a full scale disaster exercise for the Colorado North Central Region Citizen Corps program, the Clear Creek County deputy emergency manager asked us if we would be willing to hold the exercise in her county and make it a plane crash. She arranged for us to use the Loveland Ski Area and helped us navigate the astonishingly painful permitting process from the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the land. Organizing the exercise was left up to us.

Finding a plane for this exercise was quite a challenge and is really a separate story to be told. For exercise participants, we reached out to our usual suspects, plus the local teams who would potentially respond. We were surprised that the Alpine Rescue Team turned us down because this was not the type of a mission that they would take. But we did get a lot of interest from other teams and built a very diversified response group. We had the Dakota Ridge Civil Air Patrol, Arapahoe County ARES, CERT members from Arapahoe County, Clear Creek County, Littleton, Parker and RTD, the Boulder County Medical Reserve Corps, the Salvation Army and, of course, members of OMEGA. We both hosted the exercise and had our own members take part. None of us are above training. We need it as much as anyone else.

Setup for the exercise was a little bit of a bear. Not only did we have to haul an airplane and gear up the mountain, but we also had to use human power to get it positioned at the crash site. The crash was nearly a quarter mile worth of debris, consisting of plane parts, luggage and people. And, to add flavor to the incident, we added more victims, representing the activities that people do on mountain ski slopes in the summer – hikers and mountain bikers. The debris field ended in a plane fuselage crashed into the vehicles of those engaged in weekend mountain recreation activities. It took four cars to stop the plane and added yet more injured to the scenario.

The scenario ran well. The teams worked very well together and leveraged the diverse skills that participants brought to the exercise. Early in the exercise the incident commander deployed two search teams and leaned forward with an advance medical team to stage closer to the incident site as the incident command post and incident base were a mile away from the actual incident. As it turned out, the hasty teams went too far west and south and completely missed the plane while the medical team decided to use a large clearing in the vicinity of the crash to set up their staging area and stumbled into the crash area itself. The hasty teams ultimately did arrive, having found the debris trail and followed it down the slope to the crash site.

Medical Staging

The medical team starts processing the injured ahead of the hasty team arriving on scene.

Healing the Sick

A medic gets down on the ground with an injured woman to offer assistance.








Search Dog in Action

Shadow tracks down crash victims on the side of the mountain.

Patient Packaging

An evacuation team packages a patient to be taken off the mountain.








Evacuation Team

An evacuation team carries a victim to the medical area.

Low Angle Evacuation

Rescuers use a belay line for a low angle evacuation.








Even though things don’t always start out as intended, the exercise participants were flexible and adjusted their response to the evolving incident. They had an opportunity to try out a variety of rescue techniques and recovered all victims from the side of the mountain.

The exercise received coverage from KUSA’s Matt Renoux and resulted in a segment on the evening news.

We are thankful to the Clear Creek County Office of Emergency Management, the Loveland Ski Area and the U.S. Forest Service for helping us put on Operation Rocky Slope and, of course, to the multitude of responders and volunteer role players who made it a success.

Cave Rescue with CCRN

Every couple of years the Colorado Cave Rescue Network (CCRN) holds a two day long cave rescue seminar.  Technically, it’s a half day seminar, a half day workshop and a full day functional exercise.  Students come with some existing skill sets, but not all students have the same skill sets, which is both good and bad for the event.

The CCRN is a local representative of the National Speleological Society’s (NSS) rescue organization, the National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC).  The NCRC teaches several week long classes where students come in with a certain common foundation, most notably vertical skills proficiency, and are taught an assortment of other cave rescue related skills including medical, confined space rescue, vertical rescue, incident command and other related elements.  Cave rescue is in many ways a special beast.  It combines elements from many different disciplines and utilizes them with the assumption that the rescuers have limited or no support from the outside world.

The April 2013 CCRN training was held in Glenwood Springs, Colorado and brought together some four dozen individuals representing local search and rescue teams and the local caving community.  This was my fourth go at a CCRN weekend seminar and I have to say that no two have been the same to date.  I’ve learned something new every time and experienced new challenges at every session.

Saturday mornings are lecture time.  The basics are covered and disclaimers are issued.  Students are taught about caving safety, rescue considerations, underground communications, medical issues.  One would say, “hey, you’re a SAR, you do this stuff all the time!”  Not really.  Caves really are different.  A dumb move on the surface generally ends up being an annoying (and possibly painful) inconvenience and maybe teammates poking fun at the unlucky responder for months to come.  Underground a goof could cost valuable time, create additional patients, severely impact limited resources and, in extreme cases, could be a life threatening incident.


Rick Speaect teaching the Incident Command System, an overview. Photo by M Khaytsus.

CaveSim at CCRN

A packaged patient entering the cave simulator. Photo by D Jackson.

Saturday afternoon the class continued into outdoor hands-on practice breakouts, including setup of communications lines from scratch, using military field phones, patient packaging and two patient carry simulations, one through a playground obstacle course and a second one through a confined space cave simulator where hitting faux formations would result in warning beeps and a rapidly diminishing score.

In the evening exhausted students and instructors gathered for dinner and talked about how the day went and what the day to come would bring.  All we knew was that there would be some lost cavers in Glenwood Caverns and that we would be rescuing them.  Not much more was known.  We did find out that Rick Speaect was going to be the incident commander and he had the night to figure out a plan, not really knowing what he was planning for.

Rick is a long time member of O.M.E.G.A., going back to the 2005 Operation Safe Haven (Hurricane Katrina) deployment.  He’s a big cave rescue guy and one of the most skilled climbers I know.  He, no doubt, was the right choice for this role, but having to sit at the command post in the in the Glenwood Caverns visitor center drove him nuts.  Rick is an action guy and driving a desk makes him very uncomfortable.

There was a hint that Rick had something special planned for me.  I figured that he’d make me a team lead for a search or an extraction and send me to some remote pain in the butt area like Jam Crack for a nasty, physically demanding exploration.  Jam Crack is well known caving challenge at Glenwood Caverns.  Those going through it have to decide if they will be facing right or left for the duration of the vertical trip, which has sections where you inhale to wedge yourself in and exhale to squeeze your way further through the passage.

Rick and I often have vigorous debates about various aspects of rescue.  We agree on the needs and the goals, but aren’t always on the same page when it comes to implementation.  The good news is that every time we’ve worked together, we’ve been very good about being on the same page and being consistent about how we do things.  And after we’re done, we’ll sit down and do a blow by blow analysis and focus on completely unrelated successes and failures and why things didn’t work the way we wanted them to.  With that in mind, I fully expected that Rick would throw me a devious challenge, not to be mean, but to say, “let’s see you do this”.

On Sunday morning I stood outside the Glenwood Caverns visitor center and watched the pandemonium unfold.  Rescue gear was trucked up and unloaded in a central staging location.  The incident command post was set up.  Most of the responders came up on the tram, limiting what they could individually bring with them.  We found out that there were four missing cavers.  We knew who we were looking for, but not where.  And at just over three miles in length, Glenwood Caverns is the state’s third longest cave.  We had a lot to get accomplished in limited time.

Rick pulled together a communications team and a hasty team before turning to me.  “How would you like to be the UC?”

That was the absolute last thing that I expected to hear.  In the cave rescue world the UC is an abbreviation for the underground coordinator.  It’s the underground rescue operations branch director, reporting to an operations section chief, who reports to the incident commander.  Sometimes the operations chief position is eliminated all together and the responsibilities of the job are split between the IC and the UC with the IC taking care of all operational needs above ground and the UC taking on the operational elements in the cave.  This was going to be a challenging job.

Hasty-1 was led by Kenny Headrick.  Kenny is a long time caver and an employee at Glenwood Caverns.  I’ve caved with him before and always had full faith in his skills and knowledge.  On the team Kenny had another strong caver, a solid vertical guy and an EMT.  I told him upfront that the hasty search was his show.  He knows the cave and can do things quickly in there.  I was just along for the ride until we established parameters.  My only instructions to him were that we hit the likeliest spots cavers could get into trouble first, then hit the other areas.  This is a standard principle of a hasty search and in a cave like this the likely places to get into trouble were the vertical sections where climbing is required.  Top to bottom Glenwood Caverns has about two hundred feet of vertical relief, so we could potentially be busy for a long time.

Rick was busy putting together a second hasty team to search other areas of the cave.  The communications team was already stringing cable from the command post to the cave entrance.  Hasty-1, with me in tow, headed into the cave.  In my mind I churned old fuzzy memories of my ICS, LUSAR and WAS training for situations such as this.  I did not care about the details.  I did not need to know the cave.  I didn’t even need to know who was on the teams.  I just needed to work with the unit leaders and marshal them to the appropriate tasks.  I had to trust that the people I had reporting to me knew their jobs and would do them well and this is probably the hardest thing for any manager to do.  Many years ago my boss in my real world job had a discussion with me about task delegation.  I dug my heels in on releasing some of the tasks I was responsible for and she reminded me that we were not going to make the deadlines unless I delegated and supervised.  “They won’t do it the way I’ll do it,” I said.  “They won’t,” she agreed.  “No one will ever do it the way you would, but you have to set aside your definition of perfect and accept a job sufficiently well done.  We just need this to work.”  That argument stayed with me for years now.  It’s a valid argument.  I have to trust the people I have working for me.  They know the job and they will do the job.  Maybe that was the lesson that Rick had for me, too.  He knew that underground I would not do things the way he would do them and I knew that the people working for me – and indirectly for Rick – would not do things the way either one of us would do them.  But Rick trusted me to get the job done and I needed to trust others to get the job done as well, just like I trusted Kenny to find the lost cavers.  That thought process made me feel good.  We had this.  The goal was simple.  Find the cavers, get them out.

Traditional SAR methods follow the LAST principles.  Locate, access, stabilize, transport.  Any single one of these could be a bear and we had to start with first thing first.  Kenny dove into the darkness, followed by his team and by me.  Over the last decade I’ve been to Glenwood Caverns three times.  I had a pretty good idea of the cave’s layout in my mind.  There were going to be tough spots and easy spots.  I remembered the first tough spot being a winding sloping off-trail passage called “Easy Out”.  It wasn’t called Easy Out because it was easy.  It was called Easy Out because other paths through the area, like the White Rabbit Hole and the Y2-Krawl, were infinitely nastier.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  Easy Out was a good six feet wide and at least ten feet tall.  It turns out that during the winter the owners of the cave made some passage modifications to introduce a complete loop that would allow easier passing for tour groups.  A section of the cave was modified with some old off-trail segments being enlarged to form the large circular loop.  I used to know this cave.  Now I really did have to trust Kenny to make this search perfect.

We checked out a bunch of alcoves and Kenny had a couple of the team members run the Darrow Tunnel to Exclamation Point to make sure no one was there.  Kenny made sure that side passages were managed until sections were explored and declared empty before we moved on, to make sure our subjects did not fall behind us.  We made progress through the cave until arriving at a breakdown section known as the Passport Room.  Here Kenny heard a voice and disappeared into the maze of boulders past the room.  We left a caver in the Passport Room and followed Kenny up.  The breakdown was fairly challenging and I couldn’t help but wonder how we could get an injured person out of this maze of rocks.  After some struggling we got to Caver Pete.  He was sitting in the dark on a sloping rock, his leg stretched out in front of him.  He said he hurt his ankle.  The team EMT immediately got to work.  “Where does it hurt?  How long ago did this happen?  When’s the last time you had something to eat or drink?”  While he was checking out the patient, I spoke with Kenny.  We needed to get an extraction team here.  They would need a vertical team to support them.  Kenny would get the word out and continue his search for the others without the medic.

When I got the opportunity, I interviewed Caver Pete.  He said that he did not know the cave.  He was here with Jon, Mary and Kevin.  Jon got hurt in a fall, so they had Mary stay with him and Pete and Kevin went for help.  They got lost and Pete injured his ankle, leaving Kevin to continue looking for the way out on his own.  He had no idea of what the various areas of the cave were called and the story gave us little information, other than that Jon was injured about fourteen hours earlier and was with Mary and that Pete was hurt about nine hours before we found him.  Kevin was lost out there on his own.

I made sure that medic was set up and checked out a couple of alternative routes through the breakdown before heading out.  Traditionally we tell rescuers that no one is to be left alone.  The medic was okay.  He was there with Caver Pete.  Pete was coherent and functional, just unable to crawl.  The problem was me leaving on my own.  I knew it.  I thought about it.  I made a conscious decision to manage the risk.  The odds of me getting lost were slim.  Kenny made sure the passage was flagged and we had the communications team following us in.  The risk was slipping and becoming injured, not like Pete, but for real.  I knew that I was breaking a rule.  Slow and easy.  Three points of contact.

I made it to the Passport Room, to the main passage and followed the flagging back to the entrance.  The communications team was there, setting up.  They had no idea what happened to Kenny and the rest of the team and they knew nothing about Caver Pete.  They did know that Hasty-2 was in the cave and they went clockwise, opposite the counterclockwise route that Hasty-1 took.  For some reason communications to the command post was gone.  I told the communications unit leader to follow the flagging that Kenny left in place to get to the Passport Room and I would exit the cave and get things organized.  We had a solid start and I knew what resources would be needed for Pete.

A run up the hill got me up to a super busy staging area.  Rick and Dave Schmitz, the logistics section chief, were wrangling the resources.

“We found Pete,” I said.  “We need to talk.”

Rick immediately pulled away form the group to a quiet corner of the staging area and I told him the story.  We would need an extraction team and a vertical team to get the job done.  He immediately pulled me a three member rigging team, which I think he had pre-staged, and started working on the extraction team.  The lead for Vertical-1 was Tom Ice, a Garfield County Search and Rescue guy who I’ve known for a number of years.  Tom is a grizzled veteran of probably every cliff outcropping in the county and has a reputation that precedes him.  I briefed him on the challenge while his team gathered their equipment.  The challenge wasn’t so much a tall cliff, as it was a slippery sloping passage with a lot of rocks and short inconvenient drops that would hinder the transport of a patient.  I knew Tom had this one by the look in his eyes.

Followed by Vertical-1 and Evac-1 I headed back into the cave.  The communications team decided that they will string cable clockwise, following Hasty-2 because the passage on that side was friendlier.  Because the entire area was a loop, they would get to the Passport Room from the other side.  They did hear a rumor that Hasty-2 had found more of the cavers.  I told them to get communications up and running and headed along the original path blazed by Hasty-1 to the Passport Room.  This was a path I knew.

With Vertical-1 and Evac-1 in place, I headed further down the loop to find Hasty-2.  There were communications technicians stringing phone wire here now and I just needed to follow the line to the Register Room, further down the passage.  I came across Evac-2 staging in this area.  There was a claustrophobically small hole in the floor that a phone wire ran down into.  I confirmed that this was the right place and went in, followed by the Evac-2 team leader.  After some scrambling, I came across Caver Mary.  I’ve known her for many years.  The rescuer managing her told me that Jon was in “The Canyon” with a broken leg and that Mary was not cooperating and was somewhat drunk.  While we talked, Mary tried to run off on us.  We intercepted her and I sat down with her.

“Mary, you’re a lush.”  Probably not an opening line I’d use with someone I didn’t know for as many years.  That made her laugh and fall out of character.  “Where’s Kevin, Mary?”

She had no idea.  Leaving Mary in the hands of Hasty-2, I proceeded up to The Canyon, a rather deep rift where Vertical-2 was starting to set up.  Hasty-1 was down in The Canyon, too.  Jon was going to need to be hauled up and handed over to Evac-2 and while they got him through the passage, Vertical-2 would need to restage for another vertical lift.  And we needed to get Caver Mary out.  She was proving to be a lot of trouble.  I had a quick meeting with the leads of Hasty-2, Evac-2 and Vertical-2.  Hasty-1 and Hasty-2 would need to move on to look for Kevin.  Evac-2 would pull a couple of people to take Mary out and bring more supplies in.  And we had communications between the command post, cave entrance, Register Room, Passport Room and an in between area where the communications line split three ways in the cave.

The communications team proved to be fantastic.  They ran all traffic for us and helped get supplies and people in and out.  Each time I passed by a communications station, they would give me messages and patch me through to the right areas.  And the communications unit leader had two extra people, one of which he used to substitute and fill in where needed and one was assigned to me.  That, too, worked fantastically well.  I was never alone, which addressed a safety concern and I had a personal scribe who took notes and relayed messages and got me information on demand.  The only time I got on the phone at that point was when Rick wanted to talk directly with me.

The Evac and Vertical teams were on top of things.  There was some churn in their roles, but they needed very little direct supervision.  My primary concern was finding Kevin.  I had Hasty-1 and Hasty-2 sweep the main drag again and check the alcoves.  They did a detailed sweep of The Canyon and looked in Jam Crack.  Then we sat down to evaluate the options.  There was a mazy area past The Canyon called the Forbidden Zone.  It was a tough place to get to and a tough place to search and it was heading further in, not out.  There was a chance that Kevin was there, but it was very small.  We talked about this as an option earlier and now, having exhausted all our other options, Kenny brought it up again.  “Do it,” I said.

We returned to the Register Room where Caver Jon was being hauled down the slope.  It was a bit of an effort for us to navigate around Evac-2, when suddenly they presented us with Kevin.  They stumbled across him on the edge of The Canyon, in the transition to the Forbidden Zone.  The hasty teams took charge of Kevin to get him out.  I checked on the status of the teams taking Caver Jon out, then went across to the Passport Room and checked on how the teams with Caver Pete were doing.  It was now a competition to see which team would come out first.  I instructed Evac-1 to get Pete out clockwise on the loop and Evac-2 to get Jon out counterclockwise on the loop, opposite in the direction from which both teams came, so that they would not cross paths and interfere with one another.  Getting a packaged injured caver out would be a challenge without bumping into the bottleneck of a second rescue team.

Passport, please.

Extraction of Caver Pete from the breakdown in the Passport Room. Photo by D Bristol.

Caver Pete won the extraction race by about two minutes.  I stayed back with the communications team while they derigged the phone lines and assisted the returning members of Evac-1 and Evac-2 to carryout the personal packs and gear that could not be removed during the extraction.  Flagging and trash were picked up and hauled out.  I verified with entrance control that everyone else had checked out and that I was the last one to leave the cave.  Under ICS, as the incident throttles down and the response structure collapses, the lead for the area is always the last one out.  I then reported to Rick and he checked me out as well.

After the gear was packed away, everyone gathered to talk about what happened.  This was a fairly standard hotwash with teams sharing their own perspectives and discussing where they had succeeded and where they had failed.  Was it perfect?  No.  Nothing is ever perfect.  That’s why we practice – to avoid making mistakes.  Was it good enough?  Absolutely.  We located the missing cavers, managed their injuries and got them out.  From the standpoint of accomplishing the mission, we did exactly what we set out to do.  I said that very thing when it was my turn to talk about the incident.  A number of people told me that I did a great job, but I can’t take the credit for that.  I had some fantastic people supporting me and they made me look good.  They were the ones who did the work.  I read a long time ago that the secret to being a good manager is to find capable people and have them do the job they are best at.  That’s what happened this day.  I had a handful of rock stars assemble the puzzle, communicate with each other and come up with the best possible plan and pull off a very smooth rescue operation under some very difficult conditions.  My job was to make sure that they know the mission and my responsibility was to make sure they had all the tools that they needed to get the job done.

And the training?  As invaluable as ever.  Perhaps some of Saturday had been repetition, but Sunday was pushing new limits.  I’ve been the rescue branch operations director before.  I’ve never done it in a dark 50 degree cave, fully isolated from civilization with a bunch of people who never worked together before.  My own concepts about how a rescue works had to be stretched and I had to adjust my own knowledge and understanding on the fly, trying to stay a step ahead of the incident.

I would strongly recommend this training to anyone who caves on a regular basis and to those involved in the rescue community who have the potential to be involved in cave or confined space rescue.  You can’t beat the experience you walk away with.

Oh, and Rick and I still don’t see eye to eye on the dynamics of these things, but we know that when pressed, we will work with what we have and we will do a pretty good job.  It’s not about a cookie-cutter roadmap.  It’s about being flexible and getting the job done.  We are pretty good at that and in an emergency it’s the only thing that matters.

Building a Better SAR


             Teresa MacPhereson VA TF-1

             Jim Yeager TX TF-1

             Glenn Palmer AZ TF-1

FEMA’s Wide-Area Search course is taught in four modules.  Preparedness, search management and planning, field operations, and then a field exercise.  I took the course at West Metro Fire and Rescue in Lakewood, which is also home to Colorado Task Force One.  Many TF1 guys were among my 35 classmates.

What is a wide area search?  WAS includes these elements: large geographical area affected, an unknown number of victims, overwhelmed local resource capacity and recovery requiring a variety of resources.  Hurricane Katrina and the space shuttle Columbia disaster are some examples of wide-area search response.  In the space shuttle disaster there was a known number of victims, but artifact recovery of unknown scope was also a goal.

In Colorado the local Sheriff is responsible for search and rescue and can call on a nationwide web of state task forces available through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which settles key issues up front: liability and reimbursement.

Like any emergency operations response, preplanning is the starting point.  Identifying resources and capabilities, and developing relationships is key.  Pre-positioning response assets so that they are protected during the event and accessible after an event is important as well.  Familiarity with the National Incident Management System and its typing methodology makes support and logistics easier by standardizing capability ratings.  The list of potential hazards that could be encountered in a wide area search is pretty comprehensive.  You would have to include weather, flooding, sewage, debris, loose animals, downed trees, criminal activity, utilities dangers, hazardous materials, infrastructure collapse, and civil unrest.

With team safety the priority, the team manager needs to keep in mind whether his team has the proper equipment, the proper training and whether the risk justifies the benefit.  This brings three important questions to mind: how can I mess this up?  How can I keep from messing this up?  If I cannot keep from messing this up, who do I call?  Of course we know that the best way to keep from messing this up is to practice, learn lessons, and then prepare again with your learned lessons.  This is what has matured this course, and our instructors all came with a big bag full of personal experience, which made the lectures meaty and practical instead of a dry PowerPoint-and-chalkboard experience.

Day Two had several practical exercises. Jim scattered washers and our squad had to determine critical separation and find them quickly and effectively.  Glenn ran us through a hailing (and listening) exercise.  Teresa had us hunting Post-Its in a duplicated, systematic search.  Much of the learning was on tasking and effectively briefing your squad, which could contain members unfamiliar with your routines.  Terms new to me were PAR (Personnel Accountability Report, done on a frequent basis and reported to IC per briefing instructions) and LCES, a sequential safety process providing Lookouts, Communications, Escape routes and Safety zones.

Decontamination protocol was discussed and it was pointed out that during Katrina decontamination was an everyday need before entering base camp.

The benefit of incorporating local knowledge and sometimes force protection were discussed.  During Katrina, responders were exposed to gang battles as they searched for survivors until force protection was added.

In the afternoon we discussed structure markings, victim markings, and search markings and then played Markings Jeopardy which included the category Potpourri.  Map sketching and an introduction to the United States National Grid (USNG) completed day two.

Wide Area Search - hurricane deployment

Hurricane deployment tabletop. Photo by J W Stephens.

On Thursday we exercised what we learned, first with turning over intelligence between search squads, then with a tabletop based on Hurricane Katrina.  We finished off with a post-test and were released by 13:00.

Wide Area Search - hurricane deployment

Hurricane deployment tabletop. Photo by J W Stephens.

For O.M.E.G.A.’s LUSAR members, Wide Area Search comes into play if they open their door (if they have one left) and see a Wide Area Disaster and they are invited to stay on when the pros arrive.  Through the Colorado Volunteer Mobilizer it adds to one’s training but TF1 will get called and if they need qualified volunteers we could be asked to mobilize.  Having WAS-trained members on the O.M.E.G.A. roster positions O.M.E.G.A. to support ESF-9 in the future.  Indirectly though, this training builds better incident managers who are more efficient, more aware of what is possible with scale and builds relationships with the boots currently on the ground.

Colorado Task Force One, sponsored by West Metro Fire Rescue, includes firefighters, paramedics, physicians, structural engineers, hazardous materials technicians, heavy rigging specialists, and canine handlers.  It’s one of FEMA’s 28 Urban Search and Rescue teams.  CO-TF1 can deploy in as little as four hours, sustain its operations for 72 hours without local resources and operate for two weeks in the field.  Rodney Tyus manages the program for WMFR.

MCICS-100: The First Five Minutes

MCICS-100 was held May 24 and 25 at the new St. Anthony Hospital, Pre-hospital Services building, in Lakewood.  Unlike many courses, both days were very busy with instructor presentations and hands-on exercises.  The course was presented by the Operational Consulting Group comprised of Robert Marlin, John Putt, Matt Swindon and Demetri Zannis, all of whom are paramedics.  It was sponsored by COTrain.

This course was extremely valuable in teaching the theoretical and hands-on skills necessary for responding to a mass casualty incident.  What constitutes a mass casualty incident, you ask?  It’s any incident involving more victims than emergency responders can easily manage.  One ‘trigger point’ mentioned was an incident requiring three or more ambulances for transport, though in a rural area even one ambulance may take a long time to arrive.  It’s necessary to honestly assess the available resource during an incident and it’s generally wise to opt for the mass casualty ICS structure rather than assuming that resources will be freely available.

One concept that is gradually filtering through the law enforcement, firefighter and EMS communities is that the real ‘first responders’ are often the lay people in the immediate area of the incident.  While the Medical Response Corps was present near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, many ‘ordinary’ folks were the ones applying tourniquets to the limbs of victims, saving their lives.  For this reason, this type of training is invaluable not only for the ‘professionals’, but almost anyone who has the interest, desire and time to invest in the course.


Mass Casualty Incident Command System 10-4 exercise. Photo by J Scott.

The classroom portion of the course was both theory and examples of past mass casualty events with an analysis of what went right and what went wrong.  Saturday’s 10-4 exercise involved moving four patients onto backboards and moving them from one area to another.  My team consisted of five women and we worked exceptionally well with one another.  We took advantage of being the last team to perform the 10-4 exercise and so earned the very best time of three minutes flat.  We were thereafter dubbed the “Broad-Squad”.

The final exercise on Sunday was extremely demanding and difficult.  We each had to take on an MCICS role and I was elected to Transportation Chief.  All I can say is that communicating with a dispatcher via radio with chaos all around me was very challenging.  I was very fortunate that my partner/scribe and I had worked together on Saturday, so we communicated very well, which made the patient flow smoother.  Still, there were times that I had to close my eyes to concentrate exclusively on the radio transmissions in order to keep focused.  In the early stages of the final exercise, Robert had to yell at me several times to keep me from surging forward too quickly or getting distracted by a minor detail.  He also had to coach me on the proper radio ‘lingo’ for dispatch.

I can’t emphasize enough the value of this course.  MCICS-100 is also a prerequisite for other MCICS courses, such as MCICS-400, Hospital Evacuation and Surge Capacity (Operational Track) and MCICS-200 Active Shooter.  Learning from the gentlemen of the Operational Consulting Group was a very rewarding experience and helped me to develop that ‘muscle memory’ that we often talk about.

ICS-300: Intermediate ICS for Expanding Incidents

Incident Command System

Incident Command System – stock photo

I think we all know how dry Incident Command System courses can be, yet we complete them because they are important and necessary.  When I enrolled in ICS-300 through the Colorado Department of Public Safety, I expected more of the same.  However, instructor Jim Krugman led our class through interesting discussions and exercises and provided an enriching experience.  Mr. Krugman is the Training and Exercise Coordinator for the Denver Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.  He previously spent 36 years with the USDA Forest Service, largely with Fire Operations.  This course was conducted over two days, May 11 and 12, at Front Range Airport.

Attendees were assigned to one of five teams, each with a similar mix of genders, agencies and backgrounds.  This proved invaluable when working through the tabletop exercises as each team member brought a different perspective and set of priorities to the exercise.  I was assigned to team five and when we began the first tabletop exercise, one gentleman was very insistent that the railroad be given a spot in the incident command structure.  This caused Mr. Krugman some frustration and none of us knew until the second day (when introductions were done) that my fellow team member was an employee of one of the railroads.  The resulting discussion was lively and extremely informative, however.   We learned that railroads take their right-of-ways very seriously and, strictly speaking, consider themselves the only valid authority for any event that occurs in their jurisdiction.  The takeaway from this discussion is that any incident that involves or is in proximity to a railway will need to consider the railroad authority in some capacity.  For example, Incident Command would need the cooperation of the railroad to move railcars out of danger during a fire.

Saturday, we reviewed ICS fundamentals, Unified Command and Assessment of an incident or event and establishing objectives.  The lectures were broken up with group exercises and presentation of each team’s assessment or approach to the incident.  While some of the assessments were quite similar there were others that were creative and unique.  Generally speaking, every team provided valuable insight into some of the challenges and weaknesses in others.  By the end of the course on Sunday, it was clear that many of the teams incorporated some ideas presented by other teams.  This type of learning experience is extremely valuable because it reminds all of us that none of us has all the answers.  It is through collaboration and careful listening that the best solutions of all are found.

I also highly recommend Jim Krugman as an instructor.  His approach to ICS course material keeps it fresh and interesting for his students.  His many years of experience in the field also enable him to provide practical examples throughout the course.