Here’s an inside look at a Phoenix Fire Department Technical Rescue Team
Feb 10, 2020, 4:45 AM | Updated: 12:13 pm
PHOENIX — As the weather warms up and visitors flock to the Valley, hiking season will be in full swing. Inevitably, mountain rescues will occur.
KTAR News reporter Ali Vetnar spent a day with a specialized team of firefighters in Phoenix who respond to those calls.
They’re called Technical Rescue Teams. The Phoenix Fire Department has 240 members who are certified for the most extreme emergency calls including mountain rescues but they also respond to hazardous material calls, building collapses and other high-risk incidents.
Looked at as a highly sought after position, most firefighters who are a part of a team are roughly 10 year veterans of the job. Once they complete a 200-hour course over five weeks, they are eligible to be a part of the team. But their training doesn’t stop there.
They call their weekly training “TRT Tuesdays.”
Phoenix Fire Capt. Tom Taylor leads most technical rescues as a senior aircraft rescue technician. His crew from Phoenix Fire Station 12 trained at Shaw Butte in Phoenix for the upcoming hiking season.
Taylor started the training with a safety briefing about what type of mountain rescues and “hoists” they would be doing. That was followed by more information from the experienced Phoenix police pilots who were flying the Phoenix Firebird 10.
Once the safety logistics were out of the way, they suited up and left.
“There’s select members of the TRT program that are air rescue technicians, so they’re the rescues that may be on the cable going down to the patient and also communicating back to the helicopter,” Taylor said.
Leading the training, Capt. Taylor brought Vetnar inside Firebird 10 for her to get a close perspective of what these different hoists are like.
Want to know what goes into mountain rescues during hiking season? @PHXFire’s Technical Rescue Team let me tag along for their annual training. I’ll tell you all about it Monday on @KTAR923! ⛰🥾🚁 pic.twitter.com/BGR4GyvUFN
— Ali Vetnar (@Ali_Vetnar) February 7, 2020
Operating the hoist off the side of the helicopter was Phoenix Fire’s Bobby Dubnow. He would communicate back and forth with the other firefighters that were on the base of the mountain simulating a rescue of an injured hiker.
The biggest takeaway from Phoenix Fire’s TRT training was communication. Either by radio or hang signals, the team spoke to each other during all the operations.
“All of this training is to ensure every rescue has the highest level of safety, not only for the patients as they are treated, but for the rescuers too,” Taylor said.
Phoenix Fire’s Technical Rescue Team expects its busy season around the time Spring Training kicks off in the Valley. They say with the nicer weather and uptick in visitors, they run more mountain rescue calls than ever. Not all rescues require the helicopter, but sometimes it’s safer for everyone involved to have a distressed hiker hoisted.
Depending on the injury, the firefighters will decide if it’s more appropriate to hoist the hiker in a basket or in a sling they call a screamer suit.
Last year within the city limits of Phoenix, the technical rescue teams responded to 255 mountain rescue calls. More often than not those were at Camelback Mountain.
Phoenix’s TRT is also often called on to help other fire departments across the Valley when it comes to these rescues. That’s why members of the Scottsdale Fire Department TRT were also included in their training we attended, strengthening their working relationship.
Firefighters and first responders throughout the Valley want hikers going prepared, hiking early and to know limits.