I have a couple questions for you guys/gals on some winter rescue topics. Our local snowmobile club(of which I am a member) has greatly expanded its trail system over the past couple of years, moving from mostly ditch trails to cross country trails. This is a very welcome change for snowmobilers, but is does create some difficulties with rescue as some trails are up to 2 miles from a road.

First question is on equipment. What do you consider absolutely necessary for off road winter rescues?

Our Fire Department is also a BLS non-transport EMS provider so we have all of the patient stabilization/packaging stuff covered. We have a couple wire stokes baskets and a nice compliment of ropes, but not much else that can be used in these types of situations.

What we don't have are any department owned off road vehicles/snowmobiles and we have no budget to be able to buy them. We work with local snowmobilers to help us access these scenes, some of whom are FD/EMS, but many who are not.

I would like to upgrade to plastic stokes so that they can be slid across the snow. What else should we be adding to our inventory that will help us out?

My second question deals with training.

I'm working to organize a joint training between our area FD's, EMS providers, Law Enforcement, and the local snowmobilers that help us out.

Like I mentioned earlier, there are several of us that are FF/EMS that are also snowmobilers, so we have knowledge of both sides. My plan is to work with the non-emergency responders to teach them how to do things safely in the event we need them to help with a rescue and to have someone else work with the FF/EMS/LE so that we have a common understanding of how both sides work and what both sides need to do to have a successful outcome. Are there some big points that should be covered, or does anyone know of a presentation that can be shown/given?

We plan to do both classroom and hands on activities so people get some experience with these situations.

I'm fairly new to the teaching end of trainings so I'm just trying to be as prepared as possible. Thanks for anything you guys can give me!

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We use snowmobiles owed buy our FF's. We also have two departments not far from use that have rescue sleds that are pulled be hide a snowmobile. My guess is it would not be hard to build one. Your best bet is to know the trails. We have been working with the clubs around here to put in a numbering system on the trails. When that is complete and trail maps are updated with the numbers; and someone calls in if they give the last number or one they are by we will know exactly where they are. This will save a lot time in locating them and get them the medical treatment they need much faster. We have had times were it has taking over a hour just to find the correct location because of GPS usage on phones the caller is using. They will say one place and we will find them 15 to 20 mile from that location. We have had  2 or 3 departments out looking in different locations. The snowmobile clubs really need to step up and make these changes so we can get help to them when they need it. The fact of the matter is the equipment you have or use does you no good if you can't locate them in the first place. I'm not sure about riders in your area but we have some that have rode over a 100 miles to get in our area. They have no clue where they are. Good luck to you and stay safe.

The trails are numbered on our trail maps and we're working on number signs to place on every marker this year. Like you said though we have lots of people that ride in from other parts of the state and even other states and they have no idea of where they are at on our trail system.

Our county has a SAR team and they do have an RDC, it is protocol to call them to any incident like this but the problem is that they are a minimum 30 minutes out to this part of the county. I have a feeling though, that if we just get out there and do a little hands on work we'll be able to come up with something that works very well.

It comes down to whether or not your fire chief wants to assume the liability of using civilian snow machines. Regardless of your members having them.  We used to do that and to be honest when you arrive before your off duty members do with their machines, the civilian sledneck who is emotionally involved with the injured party tends to be jacked up, these people usually called 911 and raced to the nearest roadway to meet the FD. They also will volunteer to sled in your rescue personnel and they tend to drive like idiots to get you to the scene fast. 


Ultimately we chose a different path and purchased our own equipment. The department looked for grants and we obtained a Polaris Ranger with both wheels and bulldozer tracks for use year round. The rear bed is equipped with a rescuer / attendant seat (seat belt) and we can load and secure a stokes/backboard to the unit. Remember those same trails are used for not only snowmobiles but hiking, mountain biking and horse riders. We also have pull behind rescue sled for the old plan, SKED and a RDC.  None of which is the end all be all device but tools in the toolbox.

In your training program stress who is in charge and the use of ICS / Accountability and Communications. Those are usually epic fails without the training and you have three or four agencies that may or may not use any of it.


You gotta look at designing your rescue plan for the big picture.

I don't know if you have a national gaurd base nearby, but I know that my department and others around us have called them in with some of their artic cat equipment during blizzards and such. At least if it is the miliatry helping you know that they have proper training.

One of the departments here in Alaska has developed a patient sled on skis to tow behind a snowmobile

I've seen it and they say it works very well. Also I would recommend havine a Dr. Downs bag or at least a good sleeping bag in your gear for hypothermia.

I would reccomend a 4-wheeler over a snowmobile, as you can use it year round. We have a rescue cart, it has wheels for the summer that can be taken off by pulling the cotter pin, and then the ski's can be slid right on for winter. I would not reccomend having a civillian drive the patient out, you can commondere a 4 wheeler or snowmobile if needed, and have a dept member operate it.

We do snowmobile rescue on 9,000 acres of State forests in the Berkshires in our town, and to others mutual aid.  We have an ATV and a rescue trailer, also 2 rescue sleds.  With chains and using 4 wheel drive, the ATV and trailer will go virtually anywhere on packed snowmobile trails and most places with a foot or less of loose snow.  You can get skis for the Orion but most of the time the fat rubber tires will go along just fine and they are much more versatile for use in the non snow seasons.  If you have a relatively open winter like we did last year with periods of snow and then open, just having the rubber tires means you don't have to keep switching gear, etc. to be ready to go.

The trailer is made by Orion sleds and we've equipped it with a light, a chair for an EMT to ride on on the back, and a setup to hold an oxygen bottle.  We currently use member's snowmobiles as we have no room in our station to store another machine -- we can call in sleds and rescue sleds from neighboring towns who we train with on snowmobile (and off road) rescue every year or two (last year we had very little snow but we average 100+ inches.  If you equip the EMT on back and the driver with portables and headsets, they can talk to each other as they are transporting the patient without yelling or spending a lot of time looking backward (which isn't a real safe way to drive).

The biggest problem we deal with is finding the call and dealing with injured snowmobilers or their buddies who are ETOH. Cell phones don't work in most places up here due to the mountainous terrain and distance from towers.  A common problem is the buddy drives to where his phone works, calls 911, reports the problem and then moves so no one can call him back. They also are reluctant to stick around because they will get arrested if the Environmental Police think they've been drinking. Then there are the folks who drive down the train tracks because their sleds get bogged down too much when the snow is deep.....

One handy thing when you respond at night is a Telelight or some of those really large floodlights that Tractor Supply sells -- trying to check an injured snowmobiler and free him from the sled holding a handlight is really difficult -- particularly if it is in the single digits and your hands freeze when you're holding the light. With the Telelight, you start up the generator and set up your lighting and you're now hands free.  Use some duct tape to tape up a couple of those floodlights and you can really see what you're doing when you're trying to backboard or splint a patient.

Our experience is that it takes a lot of people to do a snowmobile rescue properly -- we've put together an SOG that says it will take from 4 to 12 rescuers per patient. In deep snow conditions (sometimes we have 5 or 6 feet on the ground) it takes a lot more people to get a patient onto a board and onto the trailer/sled -- we've had short EMTs totally disappear in the snow when they've stepped off the packed trail trying to help load the patient.

We would love to have the trails numbered (or at least the side trails) so we can pinpoint quickly where the victim is because with an area this large and remote, you can considerably shorten the response distance by moving your base operation to a different access. Unfortunately, the state always has something more to do than putting up a numbering system (and they insist that signage meet their design standards -- go figure). If you do put up numbers or signs and you're in deep snow country -- make sure you put them 8 or 10 feet off the ground to allow for the snow depths

Our furthest transport so far has been about 5 miles one way.  When you are operating that far from your staging area, you need plenty of sleds to get people and equipment in there as it is a long way back (and a long wait) if you forget something critical. We keep some prepacked bags ready to go but you will always find that you need something more (if you don't, you may have so much in the bags you can't move them). Sometimes when we're operating that far into the forest, we may need to have one person with a radio act as a relay station part way in because the terrain makes it difficult or impossible to talk between the staging area/command post and the accident scene.

If you're going to hold training -- do an inside session and go over the main stuff, then set up a scenario 1/4 mile or so in the woods to let people practice (at least far enough back so it is a pain in the butt when they forget to bring something and have to hike back to get it).  When we have our drivers practice, we have one ride in back on their back as the patient and others drive and ride in the EMT position -- and then we have them each switch so they get an idea what it feels like to be strapped down on a bouncing sled and not be able to see what is happening -- that experience helps reinforce the need to go slow and in control  to protect the patient.  Even going slow won't help all the time -- we rescued an injured logger one winter and had to haul him uphill out about 3/4 mile to the road with an injured hip -- even with the driver just creeping along trying to avoid as many bumps as possible, you could hear that poor guy scream all the way out to the road.


Our best rescue to date was on a nice sunny warm (20s) day one March when a snowmobiler slid off a trail and hit a 4 inch tree (just the size of a baseball bat) in the chest at maybe 30 mph -- which caused one lung to collapse and the other to head that way -- it was about 1 mile in -- his buddies immediately went for help, we had a great response from the 3 towns that were called (remember the 12 person rule), we got teams and sleds and equipment out there fast, they got him stabilized and loaded and out so fast we had to reroute the helicopter to another landing zone so he wouldn't be waiting while they were enroute. the paramedics arrived just as we were loading him on the rig, they inflated his good lung and drained 3 pints of fluid enroute to the zone and he was at the trauma center being worked on in just 62 minutes from the time of the tones.  He was in the hospital for 2 weeks and couldn't work for 3 months, but he lived and is able to work and snowmobile today.   

Thanks for the reply's so far guys.

Gregory- Thanks for all the info, I took a lot from your post. I do plan on doing a "classroom" session and then move to some hands-on "scenario" type exercises.

We don't see quite the amount of snow here that you do, maybe 2-3 feet on the ground at one time maximum, but I can see where it takes a lot of manpower.

We've been trying to get a UTV for about 3 years now but with a tiny budget we can't afford it, we have to use member and civilian owned equipment, it's our only option.

I have a feeling that if I can get a few people from every area department, and our snowmobile club, to get on board with me on this we can come up with some great tactics and be able to make successful rescues when we're needed.

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