|Friday, Jul 30, 2010|
Two Youth Conservation Corps workers, girls aged 15 and 16, succumbed to heat-related illness late on July 22nd while working on the Hemmed-in-Hollow trail in the Ponca Wilderness. This project has been ongoing for the past six-and-a-half weeks, with special attention being paid to managing heat-related issues. The workers were located near California Point, west of Hemmed-in-Hollow and north of Horseshoe Bend. At about 2 p.m., the YCC crew leader radioed park dispatch to notify them that one of the girls was showing heat stress symptoms. Shortly thereafter, the second girl also fell sick. Several actions were quickly taken. A Northark ambulance was dispatched to the Compton trailhead in anticipation of a carryout and later repositioned at Kyles Landing. A medevac helicopter was dispatched from Springdale to the Ponca Wilderness, where it located a suitable landing site on a gravel bar near the mouth of Hemmed-in-Hollow at Horseshoe Bend. NPS first responders headed up the trail to the girls’ location, a small boat put in at Steel Creek and headed downstream towards the mouth of Sneeds Creek, and a fire crew was dispatched to Kyles Landing to provide additional support to the other SAR team. Concurrently, vans and drivers were dispatched from Harrison to pick up those YCC crew members who were not assisting with the incident. First responders were on the scene at 4 p.m. to take vital signs and coordinate the logistics of the carryout with other park staff, the remaining YCC team, the helicopter, and the ambulance. The first girl reached the helicopter within the hour and was en route to Washington Regional in Fayetteville 30 minutes later. She was subsequently released and returned home with her parents. The second girl reached the boat at the mouth of Sneeds Creek just after 6 p.m. and was transported to Kyles Landing, where she was treated by Northark medics. She was subsequently released on scene and returned home. By 8 p.m., the remaining YCC crew members who had stayed to help with the evacuation were back and headed home. Health and safety have been and continue to be a priority with the park. Training, monthly safety meetings, and safety-related supplies and equipment are all parts of the efforts made by the park to create a culture of health and safety awareness. Superintendent Kevin Cheri stated that the YCC program is vital to park operations as well as to the community, providing work experience, jobs, and meeting park goals. "We are looking at this in a way that will help us better plan future projects. I am very proud of the way that our staff, including our YCC kids, came together to bring this off successfully." For the remainder of the work season, work will continue to complete the Hemmed-in-Hollow trail project with ongoing efforts to minimize heat stress and to provide the YCC team with a well-earned sense of accomplishment for a job well done.