Local emergency responders conduct exercise at Pembina Gorge

The weather couldn’t stop the area emergency responders from carrying out their training exercise in the Pembina Gorge on Monday, July 13.

Pembina Gorge Search and Rescue Exercise 7.13.2015

Posted on 7/18/15

By Melissa Anderson

The exercise had almost 40 participants from 11 different rescue and emergency response organizations.

The continued development and increased use in the Pembina Gorge Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) Trail System has encouraged more use of the area. Add to that the tubers, kayakers, hikers, and the annual Wilderman Triathlon, chances become even greater that there will be emergency responses to the area in the future.

“Sooner or later something is going to happen out there. Because it has become so popular and busy, sooner or later there is going to be an accident. We need to be trained on how to handle that,” Jeremy Schuler, the Fire Chief for the Langdon Fire and Rescue, said.

The exercise was planned by the North Dakota Park and Recreation, Langdon Fire & Rescue, Cavalier and Pembina County Emergency Management in response to the growing recreational use of the Pembina Gorge trails.

Rescue and emergency response organizations that had participating members include the Langdon Fire and Rescue, Walhalla Fire, Langdon EMS, Walhalla EMS, North Dakota Park and Recreation, North Dakota Game and Fish, U. S. Border Patrol, American Red Cross, Cavalier and Pembina County Emergency management, Pembina County Emergency Communications (HAM radio).

“All participants, as far as I am aware, volunteered their time and equipment and expertise,” Karen Kempert, the Emergency Management Director for Cavalier County, said.

The purpose of the exercise, besides to fulfill the need to have this critical training, was to identify the gaps in resources that might occur in an emergency situation and create the necessary protocols for finding or rescuing a person from the area of the OHV trail system, and other areas of the Pembina Gorge.

“It was invaluable training and we have to learn this stuff. It was awesome to work together and was a perfect experience to get our guys down there along with all the other agencies,” Schuler said.

This was the other purpose of the exercise. The building and development of relationships between area responders prior to an actual emergency is critical to the success of an emergency response operation.

“This develops a knowledge of capabilities, and resources, plus builds a level of trust that all participants know how they fit into a response and can do their job,” Kempert explained.

The exercise began at the Vang Bridge for a meet-up with all responders, moved to the trail head, for the incident command post and staging area, then down into the trail system to locate a missing person.

Once on the trail system, the biggest challenge was maintaining communications, since neither public safety radios or cell phones work down there.

“That was going to be the hardest part and we knew that. Communications is very tough out there. We can’t see anybody and they are down in the gorge and we are trying to communicate; because of the gorge we can’t get anything,” Schuler said.

Schuler, who was the Operations Commander, explained that a chain of command was worked out. Since he was in charge, Schuler was on the highest ground and set up teams composed of the responders present. Each leader of a team was then sent a out with their group and stationed themselves above the team as they searched so that communication between the leaders and Schuler would be possible.

“We all worked together and worked out a system. As far as resources go, we worked out how to get that ‘victim’ out,” Schuler said.

Some of the resources provided included ATV’s and a K-9 unit from the United States Border Patrol.

The missing person was located, then came the rescue. Regular vehicles like ambulances don’t have access, so the responders had to go in with ATV’s and a rescue sled to get the patient out.

“The exercise went very well. It identified communication channels that all could talk on when reception was available,” Kempert said.

Following the exercise, an after action review helped to enhance the identification of assets that each response discipline brought to the collective table and what would continue to assist all of the emergency responders. The organizations will put the lessons learned from the exercise to work in enhancing plans for any possible future situations.

Over the course of the exercise, the American Red Cross was there to support the responders, keeping them hydrated and fed as the exercise progressed, and held a meal following the exercise to build the relationships further.

Overall, the training exercise was a success in its intent and purpose as the participants and organizations not only know what can be expected in an emergency situation in the Pembina Gorge, but what each organization can do to help the situation.

“It was wonderful to work with the other organizations. It was invaluable training and everybody came away with a great attitude,” Schuler said.