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Thursday, December 25, 2008

My First Interview

Rescuers battle elements to get to injured woman

By Jimmy Biggerstaff
Hi-Desert Star
Published: Saturday, December 20, 2008 1:46 AM CST
MORONGO VALLEY — Emergency responders from several agencies fought rough weather conditions in the snow-covered hills west of Yucca Valley Thursday afternoon to rescue a patient with a broken hip. John Doe, firefighter/paramedic at the Morongo Valley Fire Station related that he received an emergency call a little before 3 p.m. for an 81-year-old female patient with a possible hip fracture on Ben Mar Trail off Hoopa Trail. “We responded with two four-wheel-drive engines and proceeded up the dirt road as far as we could go,” Doe said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon. “The brush engine got stuck about two miles before the house on the private, unmaintained roads,” Doe continued.

Engine two got stuck in snow and mud about a mile short of the destination. “At that point, my engineer (Eric Griffiths) and I grabbed what equipment we needed and exited the vehicle,” Doe explained.

“Then we hiked the rest of the distance to the residence in the snow up to our knees.”

The uphill hike in the snow took about 20 minutes. Upon arrival, the firefighters determined the patient had a suspected fracture. “We then decided the best way to extricate her from her surroundings would be by helicopter and called for sheriff’s air rescue to lift her out.

“We were given a one hour estimated time of arrival,” Doe said. “At that time we decided to fashion a sled with the residents who were up there, who supplied the firefighters with a four-by-eight-foot sheet of plywood.

“We drilled holes in it and used rope to pull it. We medicated the patient for pain and loaded her up in several blankets and laid her on a cot which we used to move her to the makeshift sled,” Doe said. “My engineer and I began to pull her toward the ambulance, which was about two miles away, maybe a little further.”

With Morongo Basin Ambulance paramedic Melissa Wharssler attending the patient, firefighters began pulling her down the hill on the makeshift litter. About a third of the way to the ambulance, as the sun was setting, the first helicopter showed up.

About the same time, firefighter Grant Grafius joined his colleagues to provide additional manpower.

“We then had the initial chopper come in to look at the area from above to determine the best area to extricate the patient,” Doe said. “Then the second helicopter showed up to perform the actual basket extrication.”

The aircrews informed the ground team they had to land the airships to swap manpower, changing the winch operator from the first to the second helicopter, which took about 20 minutes.

“By now the sun was down, it was dark and the temperature was dropping quickly,” Doe said.

The helicopters returned and the first provided illumination while the second lowered first a doctor and then a rescue litter called a Stokes basket to the ground.

“At that point we loaded the patient into the Stokes basket and strapped her in,” Doe said.

The helicopter lifted the patient up, then lowered a cable that the doctor clipped onto a harness to be winched into the aircraft.

The patient was flown to Loma Linda University.

The firefighters began the return trek down the canyon in the dark, then worked to get their vehicles unstuck. “It was a long call, a very cold call,” Doe concluded.

Meg Foley, general manager of the Morongo Valley Community Services District and Fire Department, described the rescue as, “A well-coordinated effort by several agencies under very adverse conditions. They sure did a good job.”
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