Three Napa Country firefighters descended on fixed ropes to stage a rescue on the rugged, steep cliffs adjacent to the Monticello Dam at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 22. Just below them inside the powerhouse, more firefighters prepared to extricate a victim from the confined spaces of the Dam’s powerhouse. And just down the highway, three Yolo County Sheriff’s department volunteers had just mounted their horses to find three lost ATV riders.
A perfect storm of emergencies lit up the Monticello Dam area that morning, but far from a coincidence, each incident was staged as part of an annual training exercise hosted by the Winters Fire Department to provide crucial hands-on training for some tough scenarios.
Interim fire chief Brad Lopez explained that the drill began with the powerhouse that sits at the bottom of the 304-foot high concrete dam.
“It started with the powerhouse,” said Lopez, “Building an emergency operations plan, they needed to look at the hazards onsite.”
“It’s three counties, when we go to emergencies, we can have three counties responding.”
Although this might sound like a source of confusion, the intersection of agencies can provide necessary resources that small fire departments like Winters might not be able to provide.
“We put agencies together, we can’t do high-angle rescue or confined spaces so we rely on mutual aid resources,” said Lopez.
Since there were already multiple agencies involved in the confined spaces drill, the fire department decided to stage other practice scenarios in the same area.
Lopez said the area is perfect for the drill because of the wide variety of natural resources: cliffs for high-angle rescue, water for boat rescues, and the powerhouse for confined space rescue.
“It’s kind of the Bermuda Triangle if you will,” said Lopez.
Agencies that came together for the training on Sunday included Winters Fire, Vacaville Fire, Woodland Fire, Dixon Fire, UC Davis Fire, Cal Fire, Napa County Fire, Yocha Dehe Fire, Solano Irrigation District, American Medical Response, Yolo County Sheriff’s Department and Solano County Sheriff’s Department.
The Napa County firefighters who performed a cliff-side rescue: Victor Acosta, Gary Engen and Brandon Campbell successfully rescued their training mannequin and coordinated the transfer of the patient to a boat in Putah Creek below.
To safely reach the victim, the three firefighters were lowered on a fixed rope and a backup fixed rope held by their team at the top of the dam. All of their communication was over the radio with commands to lower, stop and change the speed of the lines.
In the same area, a helicopter was able to lift another staged victim out of the creek.
On Highway 128, across from Putah Creek Fishing Access #2, the Yolo County Sheriff’s department trained staff and volunteers operating under Search and Rescue to become more comfortable in finding their three lost ATV riders: Jason, Serena and Mark using only coordinates of their last known location.
Vickie Fletcher, Robin Wilcox and Angie Mooreland, who commenced their portion of the search on horseback, were tasked with following a drainage ditch into Bray Canyon, while fire department and sheriff’s department volunteers left on ATVs to flank the search area to the west of the canyon.
The horseback riders are a part of the sheriff’s posse, volunteers who ride with their own horses to help with search and rescue, crowd control and public relations, according to Treva Sue Strain and Pam Van Brocklin also members of the posse. The group has been active for 12 years, is always accepting new volunteers.
The search and rescue personnel were traveling into rough terrain away from supervision and were advised to call over the radio using the words “this is real,” if someone experienced a true emergency dealing with the conditions.
Training drills like these are crucial for practicing what Lopez calls low frequency, high-risk emergencies. They help officials who already hold certifications for different types of rescues hone their skills, so the first time they implement them isn’t in a real emergency situation.
“These individuals are already qualified and certified, but this helps them build on and enhance their training.
“This environment provides the playground for that,” said Lopez.