Anniston Fire Department buys $50K in wilderness rescue gear
by Rachael Griffin
Mar 27, 2013 | 6439 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Anniston firefighters Michael Wiedeman, left, and Jim Black show off a Polaris 6X6 vehicle the fire department has obtained to be able to perform wilderness rescue missions, mainly for reaching injured people on Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
Anniston firefighters Michael Wiedeman, left, and Jim Black show off a Polaris 6X6 vehicle the fire department has obtained to be able to perform wilderness rescue missions, mainly for reaching injured people on Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
On a sweltering day last August, Haley Gregg was riding her mountain bike on a trail known as “Bomb Dog” on Coldwater Mountain. Gregg said she was riding too fast for her own good when she wrecked her bicycle and broke her right humerus, a bone near her shoulder. It took the Anniston Fire Department four hours to find Gregg and get her off the mountain.

“I was thinking there’s no telling how long I’m going to be up here,” Gregg said.

Gregg said during her rescue she hoped for pain medicine and when she was finally given morphine, it only slightly dulled the pain. She said the rescue team did its best to make her comfortable, but she needed to be carried out on a stretcher and the process was slow.

“They would walk about 10 or 15 steps and have to put me down and catch their breath,” Gregg said, due to the rough terrain.

After her rescue, Gregg was taken to Regional Medical Center for emergency surgery where she had a metal rod and three screws placed in her arm.

Since Gregg’s accident, the Anniston Fire Department formed the Wilderness Rescue Team so it would be prepared for more accidents on the increasingly popular bike trails.

Anniston firefighter Michael Wiedeman said when the fire department received the call about Gregg, responders had to gather up what little equipment was available.

“We had two bikes and some bags of medical supplies,”Wiedeman said.

Now, they’ve purchased $50,000 in equipment specifically used to rescue hikers and bikers. The Wilderness Rescue Team has two bikes with specialized packs to hold medical equipment, two all-terrain vehicles, a stretcher mounted to a large off-road tire, and a trailer to store and haul the equipment. Sgt. Carl Wilson said he worked hard to stay under the firefighters’ $90,000 budget and bought almost all the equipment locally.

The money for the equipment came from the Anniston Fire Department’s budget provided by a fire tax, which earmarks property tax revenue for fire departments.

The firefighters have performed training exercises for rescue scenarios, including working with the Alabama State Troopers to practice rescues with a helicopter, in case a patient requires immediate medical attention.

Firefighters said Gregg’s rescue is the only one performed to date, but said they would rather be prepared for future visitors. Lt. Johnnie Phelps said Coldwater Mountain is expected to receive 148,000 visitors each year. Of those visitors, likely one percent of them will be injured to the point where they need rescued.

“We don’t want that one percent to sit on the mountain for eight hours while we’re trying to get up there,” Phelps said.

Wiedeman said if the equipment had been available last August it would have taken half the time to rescue Gregg. The new stretcher would have made the task much easier for the firefighters, he said.

The firefighters said they have six people on staff, two per shift, who could be considered trail experts and would take the lead in a rescue situation. The equipment is housed at Station Two on F Street because it’s closest to the mountain, Phelps said.

Each of the six trails on Coldwater Mountain has markers every 1,000 to 1,500 feet with a number that can be used tell 911 where a person is located.

Rich Edwards, trail solutions program manager for the International Mountain Bicycling Association, said the markers cost $200 per mile.

“Even if we spend that money and it just helps one person, it’s totally worthwhile,” Edwards said.

Edwards said even though the trails are built to avoid high-risk situations, accidents can always happen. He said he’s impressed with the lengths the Anniston Fire Department has gone with its rescue team.

“Anniston Fire has done an above and beyond job in terms of how they’ve outfitted themselves,” Edwards said.

He said the firefighters know the trails and are very familiar with the types of accidents that could occur.

Firefighter Jim Black and Wiedeman are both avid mountain bikers and frequently ride on Coldwater Mountain. Black said he advises bikers to always ride within their limits.

“If you’re not comfortable, don’t do it. Scout it out first, walk a section, and then go back and ride it.” Black said.

Gregg didn’t hesitate to get back on her bike and ride on Coldwater Mountain again after she was cleared by her doctor in January. She said she’s been frequenting the newer trails but forced herself to face the Bomb Dog two weeks ago, which she described as “nerve-wracking.”

Gregg said she’s glad to see the fire department is ready for future accidents.

“Something good always comes out of something bad,” she said.

Staff Writer Rachael Griffin: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RGriffin_Star.

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