DAUPHIN, Pa. (WHTM) — As hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania sportsmen and women prepare for the start of big game hunting seasons this month, first responders are preparing for the worst.
About a dozen members of the Dauphin-Middle Paxton Fire Company took part in rope rescue training on Wednesday evening. The volunteers, many of them bear or deer hunters themselves, know they could be called out to emergencies in rough terrain areas where hunters can get into trouble.
“We’ve had injured people, we’ve had lost people or people that have passed away on the mountain,” said Bob Rusbatch, an assistant fire chief. “Someone could fall from a tree stand and break a bone or get a brain injury, or go into cardiac arrest while dragging an animal out of the woods. They could even be accidentally shot.”
The training includes learning knots, securing a person to a Stokes basket (rescue stretcher), and learning how to safely use grappling harnesses and rappelling gear for making a rescue on a steep grade.
According to Rusbatch, members of the department will typically receive up to 100 hours of training. Knowledge of the local wooded terrain is invaluable, he says, in performing a successful rescue.
“We can be called deep into Clarks Valley, Fishing Creek, and Stony Creek Valley to the game lands. Somebody could fall down a rock ledge or simply lose their bearings and go missing,” he added. “We’ve had hikers go missing on the Appalachian Trail, which runs through our township.”
The department will be better equipped for emergencies heading into this hunting season than in years past. In October, Dauphin-Middle Paxton received a large ATV vehicle that was being placed out-of-service by the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. Rusbatch says the vehicle could be used to transport personnel, equipment and patients in rough terrain. The vehicle was “permanently loaned” to the department, with the understanding that it would be available to the Guard again if ever needed, explained Rusbatch.
While the firefighters hope they never have to use their rescue skills to save a hunter this season, they hope sportsmen take some personal responsibility to remain safe in the field. Safety measures include wearing a harness while climbing and occupying a tree stand, telling someone where you are planning to go hunting and when you will return, carrying a fully charged cell phone or walkie talkie, and knowing your physical limitations ahead of opening day.
“Preparation should happen weeks or months in advance,” Rusbatch said. “You should be out walking every day and exercising. If you’re alone out in the woods, don’t rush. Take your time. If you’re pushing yourself to get the bear or deer out of the woods, its more stress on your heart.”