Park County Agencies Practice Their Search and Rescue Skills
Written by Andrew-Rossi on March 19, 2021
In a first-of-its-kind exercise, multiple Park County agencies worked together to prepare for times when the team’s assets and attention must be divided.
On March 18, 2021, the Park County Search and Rescue conducted an inter-agency training exercise on Sheep Mountain. The staging area was the south shore boat ramp off Stagecoach Road east of Gibbs Bridge.
Training exercises like this are common for Park County Search and Rescue (PCSAR) to ensure they are prepared in best practices for their calls. Lance Mathess, PCSAR Acting Coordinator, says it’s especially important for our local responders.
“PCSAR has unique challenges not only with the amount of area they cover but with the varied topography throughout our region. Park County has swim water, deep water, caves, and cliffs. Not to mention ice-climbing, snowmobiles, grizzly bears – we’ve got it all.”
At 3:30 p.m., team members assembled to be briefed on the training situation: a reported bear mauling on the Sheep Mountain Trail. No other information was immediately available.
But this training was a first for the team and the county. In addition to PCSAR, participants included members from Big Horn County Search and Rescue, Cody Regional Health, Shoshone National Forest, Buffalo Bill State Park Law Enforcement, Bureau of Land Management, and Wyoming Game and Fish.
The involvement of Wyoming Game and Fish during the evening’s exercise was particularly notable and important. According to Mathess, PSCAR had never trained with that agency before.
“We want to learn from Game and Fish what they need,” Mathess explains. “We’re going to treat the patients. We’re going to get them out. That’s our priority. But then there’s whole evidence preservation. Game and Fish need hair samples, they need biology samples. They need to know if this was a defensive attack. Was it a predatory attack? There’s a lot of information they need.”
Wyoming Game and Fish personnel were waiting at the staging area. They were to accompany the wilderness rescuers and brief them on what information their staff needs after a bear attack.
By 5:00 p.m., PSCAR and representatives from the other responding agencies were preparing to embark on the rescue on the Sheep Mountain Trail. Team members were suited up, all-terrain stretchers ready to go, and everyone was getting briefed on the situation.
And that’s when the second call came in . . .
Park County Sheriff Scott Steward and two others were stranded in the water thru the thin ice at the Buffalo Bill Reservoir. Their location at least a mile from the current staging area.
This was, of course, another drill. None of the responders were aware that there would be two simultaneous situations requiring their attention.
Upon hearing the news, the group began to split up. PCSAR members and the Cody Regional Health Wilderness Medical Team departed to collect and treat the grizzly victims. Meanwhile, the PCSAR water team went to get their suits and supplies to save the ice victims.
Everyone was in good spirits, but the importance of this multi-agency exercise can’t be understated. The whole purpose was to prepare everyone
It’s happened before. In Summer 2019, PSCAR received three calls in one day and needed to respond to each with the same level of speed and professionalism they demonstrate for every mission.
By 6:30 p.m., the grizzly victims had been evacuated and the three ice victims were onshore and recovering. All the responding personnel assembled on the shore of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir.
Then, almost like a grand finale, a Guardian Air helicopter flew in and touched down next to the assembled responders.
This, too, was a valuable learning experience – Guardian Air staff showed their equipment and their own best practices. They shared how SAR team members can select the best landing zone and how to load the chopper’s carbon fiber stretcher into the helicopter with a patient secured on it.
Everyone was in good spirits, but the importance of this multi-agency exercise can’t be understated. The whole purpose was to prepare the assembled agencies for future situations.
“The people of Park County can and should know – you can count on us at all times and we’re here for you,” Mathess says.