|Tuesday, May 8, 2012|
During the week of April 16th, more than 70 search and rescue personnel from all over the eastern United States, including one from as far away as the Virgin Islands, attended the five-day NPS Basic Technical Rescue Training—East course (BTRT—E) in various areas within Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
This year marked the sixteenth consecutive year of the course’s history and was the first time the course was held at Delaware Water Gap. Students this year represented 16 NPS parks, the United States Park Police New York City office, the Washington Support Office, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, New Jersey State Parks, New Jersey State Police, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Mohonk Preserve (New York), the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC), Lynchburg Fire Department (Virginia), New River Mountain Guides (West Virginia), and Shenandoah’s Old Rag Mountain Stewards.
Instructors came from six NPS parks, the United States Navy, New Jersey State Parks, Baxter State Park (Maine), Shenandoah Mountain Guides, Shenandoah Mountain Rescue Group, Old Rag Mountain Stewards, and SOLO Wilderness Medicine. As an added bonus, a USPP helicopter, Eagle 2, flew in from their Anacostia aviation base in Washington for a quick class on basic aviation safety and establishing landing zones.
The course began on Monday with introductions to technical cliff rescue, knot tying and anchor systems rigging, and progressed through a gamut of basic technical rescue skills, culminating in a final mock rescue scenario on Friday, during which students ran a full litter lowering operation.
Extensive media attention was generated in the area surrounding the park – the course was featured on four local area television news broadcasts and made the front page of one area newspaper. The course has also generated some significant backing from the climbing and tech rescue industries over the years, with Metolius, Sterling Rope, Petzl, and CrossFit/Reebok offering generous support.
Trainers took safety to new heights this year by completing GAR risk analyses for each operational period, providing a 3:1 student to instructor ratio, organizing the development of a new high-visibility yellow course T-shirt, and conducting thorough safety briefings each morning. As a result, zero injuries were sustained by any of the over 70 participants throughout the week, despite the inherent hazards of the training.
Special recognition goes out the entire Delaware Water Gap staff, including John J. Donahue, the park’s superintendent; Eric Lisnik, chief ranger; Eric Provencher, deputy chief ranger; and Kathleen Sandt, public affairs officer. Thanks also goes to Rebecca Fitzgerald, superintendent of New Jersey’s High Point State Park, and the staff at PEEC, without whose support the course might not have been held.
Most notable, though, were the efforts of this year’s course incident commander, ranger and park SAR coordinator Michelle Schonzeit, who began work on the development of the 2012 course back in the summer of 2011. The successful hosting of the training was the direct result of Schonzeit’s tireless site recons and site preparation, coordination with PEEC and other entities, cadre conference calls, and a plethora of other site coordinator duties.
On a final note, this year’s BTRT-E course held a special place in the hearts and minds of many of its participants who crossed paths with ranger Margaret Anderson, who was killed in the line of duty at Mount Rainier National Park on New Year’s Day. Margaret exemplified the universal SAR motto, “That others may live…” She completed BTRT-E training in 2007, when it was held at Shenandoah, and she completed her field training and evaluation program at Delaware Water Gap just a few years ago. The 2012 course was dedicated to Margaret, who was honored on the course T-shirts so that people might learn her story.