Agencies come together for rescue training in Columbus

St. Paul firefighters learn the ropes of short-haul

Columbus was the staging ground for crews with the St. Paul Fire Department to receive short-haul rescue training. Above, a firefighter rappells from a State Patrol helicopter. (Photo by Jennifer Mevissen)

Jennifer Mevissen
Staff Writer

Last Friday, Lamprey Pass State Wildlife Management Area in Columbus was the staging ground for half a dozen special rescue technicians from the St. Paul Fire Department to learn the ropes of short-haul, which is transporting one or more persons suspended beneath a helicopter.

Dan Mike and Jon Wurm, members of the Forest Lake Fire Department, along with Jim Windingstad, a Columbus public works employee, were integrated into the interagency training between the State Patrol Aviation Section and SPFD. Dangling more than 150 feet below the chopper that was flying well above the tree tops near Howard Lake, three local men were lying in a Bauman bag.

“We’ll just have you play the part of a patient,” Lt. Matt Nelson said to Mike and Wurm during a pre-drill briefing.

Within minutes from the department, St. Paul firefighters have lockers at the airport where the State Patrol air unit is located. The SPFD, as part of a regional group called “Minnesota Task Force One,” has several firefighters who are specially trained in unusual rescue techniques. They can save victims from a collapsed building, a cave or tunnel, a cliff, or just about anywhere else.

A volunteer is secured in a Bauman bag before being transported via helicopter during Friday's training. (Photo by Jennifer Mevissen)

When ground evacuation is dangerous or impractical, personnel attach to lines still anchored to the chopper. The advantage short-haul has over heli-rappelling is the limited hover time, with added capability for the extraction of persons and cargo.

“There will be a little swing in the rope,” Lt. Nelson said before the exercise began early afternoon on March 2.

In pairs, six St. Paul firefighter paramedics rappelled from a State Patrol helicopter into an area of Lamprey Pass – just hundreds of feet from I-35 – where they were to search and rescue the brave volunteers who would be wrapped up like a mummy in a bright red bag made from industrial strength material.

Mike, Windingstad and Wurm were all in agreement that the ride was a unique experience that they were happy to have participated in.

Andy DeRungs, a trooper with the State Patrol and member of the Special Response Team, says the objective is to pluck individuals from areas with challenging topography and then transport them to safety. Typically, an ambulance awaits on the ground or an aeromedical helicopter.

The task force didn’t have to travel to the Boundary Waters Conservation Area to test their skills. The management area in Columbus was chosen, Lt. Nelson said, because the “wilderness” like setting is close to the Twin Cities. He also lives in Forest Lake.

Initially, the plan was to take off and land in Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area but was changed to FLFD’s Fire Station No. 2 on Kettle River Boulevard because it wasn’t nearly as far away.

Minnesota Task Force One and the Special Response Team will continue sharpening their short-haul in Columbus on March 14 and 22.

The St. Paul department has over 450 firefighters working from 16 stations, with a fleet of 60 vehicles. Every firefighter is also a fully trained EMT. The goal is to have at least six firefighters on any given shift with the rescue training.