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Rescue team recruits survive 'boot camp'

Jesse Heer's beeper went off at 8 a.m., but the future doctor was summoned to the mountaintop, not the emergency room.

A pack of Scouts and one adult reportedly did not return from an overnight trip to Farmington Canyon. Heer joined a pack of snowmobiles and snowshoers as they scoured the canyon for clues.

About four hours later, Heer waded through knee-deep snow as he led the team that took Steve Fronk out of the wilderness. Fronk had a brace around his right ankle and was strapped onto a stretcher. Once Heer and his crew dragged the stretcher to the road, Fronk got out, took off the brace and said, "Thanks for the ride." He then walked to the parking lot.

Heer and Fronk participated in the last field exercise of the Davis County Search and Rescue unit's "boot camp" Saturday. The 47-year-old volunteer unit will conclude its first boot camp this Thursday with a classroom review of the mountaintop rescue and a discussion on swift-water searches. Davis County plans to make the six-week training session an annual event that will bring new recruits up to speed and hone the abilities of veterans.

Saturday's mock rescue lacked the urgency associated with a real search, but it still kept the 15 rescue volunteers on their toes.

Radio malfunctions, miscommunications and a few "tricks" complicated the exercise.

"The scenario was difficult, but it is important to find mistakes in a controlled environment like this because you can't make mistakes in a rescue environment," said Search and Rescue Commander Jeff Tippetts, who is a computer technician.

Jeff Worsham, a 14-year Search and Rescue veteran and an insurance representative, designed the scenario and played the role of the concerned parent.

He told Tippetts that his two sons and four of their friends camped overnight with Sam Alberts. Alberts, who is a member of the rescue team, looked after the safety of the boys throughout the training exercise.

Worsham sprinkled clues throughout his discussion with Tippetts. One vehicle was parked in the canyon turnoff known as "the Y." He thought he saw the boys' multicolored pickup farther down the road. They planned to sleep in snow caves. And they had only a few snacks with them.

Tippetts, in turn, sent out four field teams, two on snowmobiles and two on snowshoes. While Tippetts organized his rescue workers, Worsham added that the boys were split into two groups headed in two different directions.

"If they follow the procedures, they will be rewarded for it. They can find them in an hour and a half," Worsham said.

The rescue team arrived at the canyon about 9 a.m. and did not complete the exercise until after noon. Even then, they only found four of the seven lost people.

Sam Wright and Troy Rust waited near a cabin to be found, but soon the cold permeated their coats and snowpants. When mild hypothermia set in, Worsham called off that portion of the simulation.

"We would have found them in real life, but we couldn't take that chance," Worsham said.

After searching, crews were also told that one of the boys caught a ride out of the canyon earlier in the day.

"(That's) a typical situation," Worsham said. He recounted numerous times when a frantic parent has called the Search and Rescue unit, which begins a search, while the son is safe at his girlfriend's house.

Rescue workers found the last three boys perched on a hilltop by following fresh snowshoe tracks and a fruit leather wrapper. A team of 10 anchored the stretcher, called a "stokes," to a tree before lowering Frock down the mountainside.

Tippetts complimented his field teams for reacting well despite communication problems. He said the event will allow the unit to pinpoint specific areas to work on, such as snowmobiling skills, which will better prepare them for an actual emergency.

When Search and Rescue volunteers are not looking for lost people, they are teaching the community safety procedures.

They say to always tell someone where you are going, who you are going with and what you plan to wear. Rescue workers also suggest carrying matches, extra clothing, a light and some snacks during every outdoor excursion.


E-mail: mcanham@desnews.com