Firefighters stage helicopter rescue

Pelham Fire Chief Danny Ray, right, acts as a simulated victim as an Alabama state trooper lifts him out of the Peavine Falls area at Oak Mountain State Park on Oct. 23. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

A gray, blue and yellow helicopter hovered over Oak Mountain State Park’s Peavine Falls on Oct. 23 as an Alabama state trooper dangled more than 100 feet below the chopper on a retractable line.

Another trooper in the helicopter lowered his colleague to a simulated victim near the bottom of the falls. Once the man dangling beneath the aircraft reached the simulated victim – a member of the Pelham Fire Department – the trooper attached a harness to the victim before attaching him to the line.

The trooper in the helicopter then reeled in the men on the line until they were above the park’s treeline. A few minutes later, the chopper gently set the men on the line down on the Peavine Falls parking lot, where Pelham Fire Department emergency crews could have easily transported the victim to the hospital.

The state troopers and firefighters spent the morning running several other simulated rescue missions near the falls, honing their skills for a day when the danger is real.

“If someone is injured in a remote location of the park like this, lifting them out by helicopter can shave off an hour or two on the rescue time,” said Pelham Fire Department Capt. Mike Reid.

The state trooper helicopter is stationed in Montgomery, but can reach Pelham in about 30-45 minutes, Reid said.

“When we get the rescue call, we can notify the troopers and they can go ahead and take off,” Reid said. “If it’s a remote part of the park, the helicopter will be here by the time we get to the park and get everything set up.”

Because most of the park is not accessible by paved roads, rescuers must use all-terrain vehicles to reach victims in remote parts of the park if they don’t call on the helicopter.

In 2011, the fire department and the state troopers teamed up to airlift a man who suffered a gunshot wound after falling out of his tree stand during a controlled hunt.

“Because we were able to airlift him out, everything went really well,” Reid said.