TAZEWELL, Va. –
Virginia National Guard aviation crews and Chesterfield County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Scuba Rescue Team members provided a hoist rescue capability demonstration for emergency managers from across southwestern Virginia Nov. 16, 2022, in Tazewell, Virginia.
The VNG aviators and Chesterfield rescue crews make up the Virginia Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team, providing rotary wing rescue hoist capabilities which can conduct aerial rescue evacuations.
In addition to local emergency managers from the city of Bristol and Tazewell, Giles, Grayson and Wise Counties, officials from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management also observed HART’s demonstration of static and dynamic rescue hoists.
The southwestern Virginia region, with mountainous terrain and low valleys susceptible to flood events, doesn’t have as many tactical rescue resources as other parts of the state, making their familiarity of HART’s capabilities an important part of their emergency planning.
“We try to provide the same services to our southwestern Virginia counterparts that someone in a more urban portion of the state would see,” explained Bryan Saunders, the VDEM emergency services program manager. “By being able to execute HART and get them in the air and get them on scene and execute rescues will save time, possibly save injuries for our rescuers, and get folks back in service for the next call out quicker.”
In addition to weather disaster response, HART’s unique aerial evacuation capabilities might also be useful for other rescue situations, including injured or endangered hikers on remote mountain trails not easily accessible by ground.
“Obviously there’s a lot of areas where a hoist could help considerably,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Shane Leipertz, the HART standardization pilot. “If you feel, looking at the rescue, it would reduce the overall risk to the rescue team and the victim by deploying that hoist, that’s the time to start considering it. Whether that’s a six or eight hour egress, whatever that case is, if it looks like it would reduce the risk to your teams, that would be the time to call.”
“We don’t have the resources down here to deploy for those rooftop-type rescues or extended carry-outs, because someone’s down the Appalachian Trail and we just can’t access it,” said Saunders. “State Police can provide some of that resource, but what HART brings to us is a game-changer and a resource multiplier. We can get them in theater, they have longer loiter times, longer cables. They have heavier payloads they can lift.”
During the event, HART personnel provided an overview of the program’s history and capabilities, before a practical demonstration. VNG aviators flew a specially-outfitted UH-60 Black Hawk, deploying technical rescue specialists from Chesterfield Fire over a simulated patient, demonstrating different types of hoist rescues, including using a basket for non-ambulatory victims. The capability augments limited resources already in place int he region, including local emergency responders and Virginia State Police.
“By bringing HART on board, all that does is give us another tool in the toolbox to execute these rescues and provide a service to the citizens of the commonwealth and Southwestern Virginia, who have often felt left out,” said Saunders.
During domestic operations, the VNG receives missions from VDEM and responds as part of a multi-agency team with other state and local agencies to provide support capabilities requests by Virginia communities. VDEM determines where capabilities are allocated, and the VNG does not respond to direct requests for assistance. Localities looking for VNG support should make their requests to VDEM, and they determine which organization can best provide the requested assistance as they coordinate the regional and statewide response.