Imagine being positioned on a rope, hanging in open space above a canyon floor, your only anchor points 300 feet in either direction.
For local emergency rescue crews who use tracklines to bridge the span between one peak and another, this is the reality.
On Friday, Feb. 3, the Jerome Fire and Police departments hosted crews from Verde Valley Fire District, Copper Canyon Fire and Medical Authority and Verde Valley Ambulance Company, taking them out to Sycamore Canyon to train on the use of tracklines, high-tension wires anchored at two points and spanning vast distances.
Tracklines allow rescue crews to move objects or individuals over terrain that could otherwise not be accessed.
“If you hear a sound change in that winch, you need to stop what you’re doing,” Jerome Police Department technical rope rescue expert Matthew Poe said to the gathered crews, explaining in sobering detail what demands are placed on equipment and personnel during a highly technical and physically exhausting trackline rescue.
According to JPD Chief Allen Muma, local emergency departments are used to doing things a certain way, staying in their comfort zone, but trust is necessary when doing technical rescues. Without the expertise, people get injured or worse.
“This is the second one we’ve done,” Muma said, adding that he enjoys using the skills he has honed using the trackline, forming bonds with other agencies and encouraging each other to learn new techniques.
“Outside Sedona, we’ve got the most technical experience,” Muma said. Sedona Fire District crews conduct rescue operations several times a year for local and visiting hikers who get injured or stuck on the rock formations in the area.
Trying to perfect the trackline procedure, the chief added, is a challenging task, but one that he is committed to in order to ensure the best rescue options for locals and visitors.
Kerry Lee, another expert with JPD, said that he wanted to do more in the area of training after a rescue conducted in Sycamore Canyon last summer.