With More Wilderness Rescues Expected This Spring and Summer, Pasadena Search Teams Train with High Tech Tools

Published : Monday, April 29, 2019 | 4:38 AM

An Urban Search and Rescue Task Force led by the Pasadena Fire Department honed its ability to locate and save victims over a wide area of wilderness with three days of drills in and near Eaton Canyon last week.

Authorities expect busy, rescue-filled spring and summer months.

Fire officials said their efforts are increasingly more efficient because of the deployment of new high-tech tools, including drones and GPS and location-related technology.

The Pasadena Fire Department is the lead agency in Regional Task Force 4. The team is also comprised of units of the Glendale, Monterey Park, Alhambra, Arcadia and Monrovia Fire Departments.

Last Tuesday through Thursday’s quarterly training drills practiced locating victims, geocoding their location and calling helicopter or reinforcements to help transport the victims to safety.

The simulation used orange cones instead of real people as victims, but the ground teams had a very real job of hiking into the canyon through challenging terrain. Like a lost hiker or catastrophe victim, the cones were not in conspicuous locations.

“Technology is the key,” Frieders said. “In the past we would conduct a search by using multiple ground teams that would do a grid pattern search by foot. That’s still happening. But extraction of those victims and marking where they’re at was difficult.”

“We were depending on maps and pretty rudimentary systems and flagging. Now we can use the GPS coordinates to locate a victim who can be rapidly extracted by airship or by ground teams in support mode.”

Frieders that GPS technology has become more modernized.

“GPS units are much more portable than before. When it first came out you needed a receiver size of a television set, whereas today we have it in our phones. Now we have accurate devices that can pinpoint within a foot or two of where a person is located,” he said.

The improved GPS technology comes in especially useful at night, Frieders said.

“Eaton Canyon is great during the day but at nighttime having that coordinate depicted somewhere helps us extract and rapidly rescue someone who may be in trouble,” Frieders said. “The technology has evolved so it is more effective for use by ground teams.”

Freiders said that having a big picture view is critical in search and rescue.

“One of the other tools we’re using is drone technology. We’re testing the opportunity to use drones to launch that same pattern search that would have had to be covered by foot teams on the ground,” he said. “And when drones locate a victim they can actually determine what the GPS coordinates are and direct teams directly to an individual who is in trouble.”

Drone operators are required to have the proper licensure and government agencies need to comply as well.

“Our members operating the drones will have a license consistent and compliant with FAA,” Frieders said. “We’re testing the technology now, we’re testing the camera technology, the GPS technology that’s attached to the drones. For us it’s an excellent tool for rapid identification of victims and it seems logical for us to pursue this. It’s the foresight of the urban search and rescue team from Pasadena and surrounding agencies with RTF 4 that have taken it upon themselves to find the latest and greatest technology to provide that vital rescue location for people victimized by these catastrophic events or who have become lost in a large area that may not be familiar to them.”

Freiders said that it’s the time of the year when there will be an increase in the number of calls for rescue. He said it’s important that hikers and use common sense, stick to the trails and make good decisions while up in the mountains.

“Pasadena is fortunate to have the most beautiful landscape and some of the most beautiful natural resources for people to enjoy and we want to encourage people to enjoy those,” he said. “I do expect that as the weather has changed now and we’re having some beautiful sunny days that there will be an increase in calls and in fact we’ve seen a small uptick in response to calls to Eaton Canyon specifically.”

“Most of those calls relate to people who aren’t prepared to go through the challenging terrain that exists,” he said. “The experienced hikers understand what to expect as far as being prepared.

“Our advice is to make sure you’re wearing closed-toed shoes, bring plenty of water, plenty of food and obviously hydrate yourself before you get up into those canyons where the terrain is steep,” Frieders said. “Make sure you have a map and a really good device that’s capable of transmitting an emergency signal or making a phone call so if you do get in trouble, we can find you.”

Frieders offered some tips:

Be careful jumping into pools of water.

“There have been several incidents in canyons all over the country where people jump off rocks where they think it’s a deep pool when it’s a shallow pool,” Frieders said. “There’s a potential risk of spinal injuries if you jump into shallow water.”

Watch for rattlesnakes.

“We haven’t had a significant call for rattlesnakes in our town but in that canyon, that’s their natural habitat,” he said. “Stay on the trail. if you do encounter a rattlesnake, stop what you’re doing and call 911 immediately so we can come and get you.

Generally rattlesnakes don’t want to be anywhere near people, Frieders said.

“If you hear the rattle it’s better to just walk away, leave it alone and don’t do anything to entice the snake to bite you.”

Use common sense.

“There has been an increase in calls up into the Eaton Canyon area and some of our other natural habitats because the weather is so nice and everybody wants to go and see the beauty,” he said. “We encourage people to do that, but just be prepared if you’re going to do that.”

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