Several Items Concerning Rescue

I recently returned from the 60th Annual Convention of the North Carolina Association of Rescue and EMS held in Hickory, North Carolina on Sept. 8-11, 2016. There were instructional classes in rescue evolutions involving winching operations and procedures, use of struts in vehicle movement and stabilization, several classes involving EMS field operations and training, and numerous vendors promoting various trucks and equipment for EMS and rescue applications.


Light helicopter useful in SAR.

The Rescuers: Who are they? They’re people like you and me. They’re the people next door. They have worries and unfulfilled dreams just like you and me. They’re Rescuers; many volunteers and many seeking to make a living. Yet they stand a little taller than most of us. The Rescuer puts it all on the line when the time comes; day or night. The Rescuer is at once the most fortunate and the least fortunate of all people. They save lives because they have seen too much death. They have a gentle touch because they have viewed too much of the awesome power of violent forces out of control. The Rescuer is responsive to the laughter of a child because all too many times they have held too many small bodies that will never laugh again. The Rescuer appreciates the simpler pleasures of life … hot coffee held in numbed, unbending fingers … a warm bed for bone and muscles compelled far beyond the call of duty … the fellowship of brave co-workers … the divine peace of selfless service and a job well done in the name of all men. Maybe most of all the pleasure comes from a tear stained cheek of someone saying, “Thank You and God Bless You.” Who are they? They’re the Rescuers; they don’t preach about the brotherhood of man — They Live It.— Chaplain Tom Jordan

Of particular interest to me was the vendor advocating unmanned aerial vehicles — UAV’s, more commonly known as drone aircrafts. In previous articles I have advocated the increasing use of drones in search and rescue applications. The absolute clarity of the live-feed video footage taken by drones in flight was absolutely amazing. The video is crystal clear. In-flight magnification of the camera lens allows for close-up views of things of interest on the ground, and the stability of the drones in flight in reasonably turbulent meteorological conditions is good. The flight time per battery charge is increasing as batteries evolve, and the safety characteristics of the control modules and radio telemetry used to “guide” the drones is improving constantly.

Drones are becoming an increasingly valued and useful technology in the fire/rescue fields. Although they will never replace the usefulness and varied abilities of helicopters and the value of an aircrew’s interpretation of a situation being viewed on the ground, they do offer an exceptional alternative to the use of helicopters, particularly in the areas of per hour operational costs. Also, and as agreed to by drone vendors I have spoken with over the last year, to crash an unmanned aerial vehicle is far cheaper than the alternative: a crashed helicopter. You could crash 10 moderately priced UAVs — suitable for search and rescue (SAR) missions — and still not come close to 10 percent of the cost of even a light piston helicopter, not to mention the potential of serious injury or death of the aircrew.

As a helicopter pilot, I know well the value of a trained aircrew on a SAR mission and the physical capabilities of helicopters. However, both aircraft types have their unique advantages and disadvantages. What I am saying is this: both are “tools in the rescue toolbox.” The more tools you have at your disposal, the better you can be at SAR work.

It is time for UAVs to be considered as mission critical pieces of equipment for the North Carolina Rescue Grant program for rescue squads and fire departments. As an example, it took some demonstrations and use of the high angle rescue gear utilized in the Mountain Rescue standard before this equipment was added to the acceptable list of “approved rescue equipment” for cost sharing. Getting UAVs added to the list will most likely follow the same path, taking time for proof of usefulness and practicality to be realized. It will also require contacts through the proper channels to request these devices be added to the approved equipment list, but I think the efforts will be well worth the work required to do so. Time will tell on this.

What is a Rescuer?

On quite a few occasions, I have been asked to expound upon just what a “rescue person” is. That is a good question, to which I can address only through 42 years in volunteer rescue. I can best supply a definition through the writing of a man I met many years ago while attending the North Carolina Rescue College that used to be held in Durham at the Durham Public Safety Academy. It was written by a man who was serving as the chaplain at that time for the Durham Public Safety program, Mr. Tom Jordan. I think it is fair to say that he never realized the tremendous impact his words would have upon a young volunteer rescueman working hard to become a rescuer —but they did, and still do — to this day.

This written dedication was read aloud to those in attendance at North Carolina Rescue College during the closing ceremonies culminating a hard weekend’s training. These words I have used at funerals of rescuers, reading them aloud as part of the memorial services. I have presented framed copies to the family members, reminding them — as if they really needed reminding — of the tremendous life commitment required of a rescuer. You see, even though a rescuer is just a regular person like the rest of us, they are different. Different in that a rescuer is dedicated to helping friends or strangers at a time of great danger or peril, often at great personal risk, possibly never seeing again the person(s) they saved, but knowing that they did so not for self-gratification, but because it was the right thing to do. Helping our fellow man, our communities, and trying to make a difference in this world, utilizing the skills and knowledge learned over a rescue career. That, I contend, is a rescuer.

Read these words carefully and reflect upon them. Is this who you are? Is this what you want to truly become? I hope so, because in my book, it simply CANNOT be done any other way. To you young people becoming rescuers, I challenge you to become this person. You can learn all the rescue skills available and know all the tricks of the trade; but to become one of “The Rescuers” you must do so in your heart and soul every day. You have got to be willing to “put it all on the line.”

You are learning, over time, all of the skills you will need to do your jobs safely and correctly. Whether you realize it or not, you are already becoming one of The Rescuers. So go now and make a difference, because God knows, the world needs you.

Bob Twomey is the founder and past chief of the North Carolina High Level Extraction Rescue Team, Inc. a volunteer helicopter search and rescue support team based in Transylvania County, North Carolina. He is the senior helicopter pilot for Wolf Tree Aviation, LLC operating out of Transylvania Community Airport. He has served in numerous officer and training positions in the Transylvania County Rescue Squad. He has been active in SAR for 41 years. He can be reached at 828-884-7174 or

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