A team of eight paramedics from Air Force Special Operations converged on Pittsburg earlier this month as part of a special winter training session for the 103rd Rescue Squadron of the 106th Rescue Wing of Long Island, New York.
Joined by about 20 volunteers from the Pittsburg, Colebrook and Beecher Falls, Vt., fire departments as well as the 45th Parallel Emergency Medical Services of Colebrook, the group traveled by snowmobile to the Cedar Stream area for a mock mass casualty incident that included three victims, two from a snowmobile accident, and a third, buried in the snow from an apparent avalanche.
"This trip was about getting our young rescue men with people who know what they're doing and are more proficient with snowmobile rescue," said Master Sgt. Jules Roy, who led the group's operation along with Pittsburg Fire Chief Kevin Lassonde.
The exercise came together quickly, he said, and was planned a few weeks prior while the team was in Oahu, Hawaii, training in 45-foot waves off the North Shore. From victim rescue in deep water to victim rescue in deep snow, the men were in Pittsburg to learn how to handle backcountry rescue operations as well how to operate snowmachines with proficiency.
The team, which is also dubbed the 103rd Hallmark Red, came together in the early 1970s, Roy said, with the intention of being the best at rescue.
The unit -- featured in the movie "The Perfect Storm" -- is represented by a Cheshire cat, and conducts rescue operations as a back-up to the U.S. Coast Guard. Many of the incidents that the 103rd responds to, Roy said, includes back-country plane and helicopter crashes.
While previous snow training has been conducted in Montana, recently the unit opted to look in New England for a more convenient location that could be used annually. It is the intention for unit members to return to Pittsburg for additional training using helicopters.
The next operation will include the dropping of two men from a HC-130 helicopter straddling snowmachines.
"We'd like to come up next year and drop a snowmobile on the lake," Roy said, explaining that a drop zone would need to be surveyed.
The team gathered at the Pittsburg Fire Station to be introduced to the local volunteers as well as survey rescue equipment used by the departments. Roy and Lt. Vieira coordinated with chiefs Kevin Lassonde of the Pittsburg Fire Department, Steve Young of the Beecher Falls Fire Department, Brett Brooks of the Colebrook Fire Department, and Interim Chief Michelle Hyde of the 45th Parallel EMS for the next day's schedule and scenarios.
Roy and Vieira worked with Lassonde to set up the drill about two miles away.
Traveling in three groups, the teams converged on the location and set to work helping the three victims. EMT Rosalie King, of Pittsburg, who played the part of a victim suffering from hypothermia, allowed herself to be packaged into a rescue sled and reported her experience at the end.
Meanwhile, a second group assisted a dummy, which was reportedly suffering from a broken leg caused by a snowmachine accident, and a third used a beacon to show rescuers where a dummy was buried in the snow.
"We are pretending that it is out in the backcountry and that extended scene care is required," Roy said. "We are discouraging the scoop and run, to learn more from the local firefighters and EMS who are familiar with this type of work."
Following the exercise, the group came together, comparing notes on the procedures that were used, and what changes to make.