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Rescue Course Honors Climbing Ranger Nick Hall

Obed Wild and Scenic River

National Park News

During the week of April 29th, over 50 search and rescue personnel from all over the United States, including one attendee from as far away as Oregon, attended the five-day NPS Basic Technical Rescue Training – East course in various areas throughout Obed Wild and Scenic River.

This year marked the 17th consecutive year of the course’s history and was the first time the course was held at Obed or in Tennessee, which marks the ninth state to which the course has traveled. Ten parks were represented by 38 students and 17 cadre alike, including Obed, Big South Fork, Blue River, Everglades, Chickamauga-Chattahoochee, Buffalo, Shenandoah, Acadia, Wilsons Creek and Great Smokies. Representatives from Southeast Northeast and Midwest Regions also attended.

Other participants included a retired NPS employee and personnel from the US Forest Service, FEMA, Tennessee State Parks, North Carolina State Parks, the Army and Navy, Carolinas Medical Center ER, Morgan County Rescue Squad, Charlotte Fire Department, Wartburg VFD, Puckett EMS, Santa Rosa Seasonal Ranger Academy, North Carolina Outward Bound, PEEC (Pocono Environmental Education Center), Shenandoah Mountain Rescue Group, and SOLO Wilderness Medicine.

The course began on Monday with introductions to technical cliff rescue, knot tying and anchor system rigging and progressed through a gamut of basic technical rescue skills, including an excellent night operation. It culminated with three final mock rescue scenarios on Friday, during which time students ran a full litter lowering and/or raising operation.

Over the years, the course has also generated some significant backing from the climbing and technical rescue industries, with Metolius, Sterling Rope, Petzl, and CrossFit/Reebok offering generous support.

Three outstanding after-hours presentations were offered – one was by Arno Ilgner, legendary climber and author of The Rock Warrior Way, a second was by USFS LEO Eddie Cartaya (former NPS ranger) on the expedition he led into the glacial ice caves high on Oregon’s Mt. Hood, and a third was on lessons learned from a near-death wilderness injury/rescue-gone-wrong experience that one of the cooperating instructors had several years ago.

The cadre again placed a high premium on safety 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 and after action reviews at the close of each training evolution. As a result, zero injuries were sustained by any of the over 60 participants throughout the week, despite the inherent hazards of the training.

Special recognition goes out to the entire Obed and Big South Fork staffs, including Superintendent Niki Stephanie Nicholas, Chief Rangers Matt Hudson and Randy Scoggins, Frozen Head State Park Manager Dave Engebretsen, and Tennessee State Parks Chief Ranger Shane Petty.

Two people stand out most notably, though – Superintendent Nicholas, who roped her division chiefs into cooking a magnificent Thursday night feast for 70 people, and this year’s site coordinator, Chief Ranger Matt Hudson, who began work on the development of the 2013 course back in the summer of 2012. The successful hosting of the training was the direct result of Hudson’s tireless site recons and site preparation (including rigging that required 5.12 lead climbing), coordination with the park botanist and management team, cadre conference calls, and a plethora of other site coordinator duties.

On a final note, this year’s course held a special place in the hearts and minds of many of its participants due to its honoring Nick Hall, Mount Rainier climbing ranger, who was killed in the line of duty last June, exemplifying the universal SAR motto: “That others may live…”

The 2013 course was dedicated to Nick and he was honored on the course T-shirts, so that people might learn his story.


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