Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

An encouraging story from Alabama! State Troopers start Heli-Rescue unit.

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Monday, March 12, 2012

Some say it’s easier to criticize than praise. Where there may be great truth in that simply because of our human nature, it doesn’t mean that we should continually negatively criticize. And so, acknowledging that, I present the following GOOD NEWS story for your perusal.

Would to God, there were more like them.

Which brings me to this point – which I’ve previously shared: Maintenance is the most important and most under-rated job in all the world.

Why?

Everything requires maintenance – our bodies & lives with nutrition, exercise and hygiene, our relationships with communication and forgiveness, our clothing, our residences, our pets… everything requires maintenance. And it’s much easier to get things started than it is to maintain them.

To start something without a plan for future action – and indeed, all planning is for future action – which includes a means and method of provision for ongoing maintenance is not merely short-sighted, it is ignorant.

Let’s hope and work for such positive change.

Alabama State Troopers using new helicopter, training to become force in rescues

Published: Monday, March 12, 2012, 9:15 AM     Updated: Monday, March 12, 2012, 9:26 AM

Hanging from the end of a line attached to a helicopter, Alabama state Trooper Shane Hobbs "rescues" Trooper Mack Ward, in the red helmet, from the woods during a training session. (The Birmingham News/Joe Songer)

After Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, Alabama State Troopers flew in helicopters over Mississippi and Louisiana, dropping food, water and insulin to families stranded by the storm.

“People were making signs in their yards with sticks and clothes — We need help,” Chief Pilot Lee Hamilton said. “We kept making those drops over and over again, daylight to dark, for about seven days.”

One thing troopers couldn’t do for those stranded survivors was lift them from the wreckage and fly them to safety. “It would have been nice to have been able to pick these people up, especially the ones who were hurt,” Hamilton said.

Four years later, equipped with a more powerful helicopter and following the methods of the U.S. Coast Guard, troopers were finally able to start performing the kind of air rescues Hamilton wished they could have made during Katrina.

In 2005, troopers had an aviation unit, which searches for fugitives and marijuana fields, and a critical response team, which deploys after natural disasters. After Katrina, troopers were pulled from those units to serve on an air rescue squad that can fly out with people trapped in dangerous situations.

To do that, the state in 2007 purchased a Bell 407 helicopter, which — unlike other trooper helicopters — can lift people at the end of a 100 or 150 foot line capable of carrying 2,200 pounds.

Troopers trained with the Georgia State Patrol Rescue Squad and studied the Naval Hoist Procedure Manual and the U.S. Coast Guard Procedure Manual. By 2009, the new unit was in operation.

Today, the 14 troopers hand-selected for the duty search for Alzheimer’s patients, track fugitives and pluck people from perilous situations. Three mechanics who maintain the helicopter often double as crew members and are selected for their physical fitness.

“When you don’t have the manpower you need, you make do with what you have,” Hamilton said.

In its first three years, the unit has searched for 260 missing people, hunted 212 fugitives, and performed 34 air rescue missions.

“Someone who is sharp mentally and physically fit. That’s who you want,” Hamilton said. “Being able to get on the roof of a car the size of a small tabletop and handing up a 2-year-old to someone who can strap them to a line while in the middle of a river. That’s who we look for.”

There are at least four people on board during a standard rescue mission — a pilot, a rescue officer who goes down on the line and a flight officer who stays in the back, following hand signals from the officer on the line. The flight officer tells the pilot where to fly based on those hand signals.

A hoist operator guides the line that carries the trooper down.

“It’s an absolute team effort,” Hamilton said. “The communication in that helicopter is very precise, and it’s taken us a couple of years to perfect.”

In January, the unit made two daring rescues.

Trapped in a Jeep

In Fort Payne, a woman and a man spent a snowy night with the woman’s 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy trapped in a Jeep after driving over what was normally a landbridge across the Little River. All four suffered hypothermia.

“When the water is down, a four-wheel drive could easily make it. They tried to cross it when the water was up too high,” Hamilton said.

At sunrise, the woman’s friend swam to shore and walked for two hours to the nearest house to call for help.

The Jeep was 40 feet from shore and the only way to free the three would to be run a line across the fast-moving water and use a pulley system to get them to shore. “It was too dangerous,” Hamilton said.

With mechanic Bill Bevan guiding the line, troopers Micah Little and Mack Ward landed on top of the Jeep.

Ward went into the Jeep and fitted the children with safety harnesses. Ward then handed the kids up one at a time to Little, who clipped them to him and rode with them up to the helicopter.

The mother, Ward and Little rode up together and the family was flown to an ambulance a quarter-mile away. The entire process took 20 minutes.

Kayaker rescued

Hours after the Jan. 23 tornadoes, three people kayaked the Cahaba River near Trussville. One man suffered a broken leg and was trapped a few miles from the nearest ambulance.

“The terrain is rough,” Hamilton said. “They were going to have a big haul getting this guy out.”

With the sun starting to set, the unit, which does not perform night flights for safety reasons, flew a trooper through a swath of trees, with limbs scraping him as he went down.

“It was a monumental rush against daylight and trees,” Hamilton said. It took 15 minutes to get the man to safety.

The work is not all air rescues. Much of the job is finding people with cognitive disorders who wander from home.

Those missions rarely have happy endings. Hamilton said one out of every three people the troopers search for is found alive.

“They wander in places where you wouldn’t look, like the edge of a swamp. They’ll get waist deep, exhausted and die,” said Cpl. Kent Smith.

Tracking system

The troopers want a statewide expansion of Project LifeSaver, a system that allows authorities to track those in danger of wandering away, such as Alzheimer’s patients, with special bracelets that pinpoint his or her location. Project LifeSaver is used by about 300 people in 34 counties.

Spreading the program could save lives, Smith said. With LifeSaver, if someone wanders from home to a large parking lot five miles away, they could be found in 15 minutes, Smith said.

“Within 15 minutes, we’ll be circling the lot, and it’s going to tell me within two cars where that person is,” Smith said.

As more Alabamians are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the need for Project LifeSaver will grow, Hamilton said. More than 93,000 people statewide suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s, according to Alzheimer’s of Central Alabama.

Hamilton said he knows it will be difficult to get money from the state as it cuts spending, but he keeps pushing.

“You can’t put a price tag on this. I know I couldn’t if it was my family.”

Join the conversation by clicking to comment or email Gray at jgray@bhamnews.com

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This article may be found here: http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2012/03/alabama_state_troopers_using_n.html

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