CASPER, Wyo. — A person sustained minor injuries after driving over the edge of Lookout Point on Casper Mountain on Tuesday, Jan. 14. Emergency personnel arrived on scene at about 6:30 pm.
“The mutual aid response in this county is awesome,” Natrona County Fire District Public Information Officer Leighton Burgen said on Wednesday. He was one of the firefighters who responded on Tuesday evening. “That was a manpower intensive call.”
He added that without all the help from the various departments, the rescue operation could have lasted much longer, which could have made the situation more serious given the wind and weather conditions.
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Since Casper Mountain Road is Wyoming Highway 251, the Wyoming Highway Patrol was in charge of the scene. Burgen says that according to WHP, the vehicle hit a snowbank along the guardrail, which acted as a kind of ramp, sending the vehicle over the edge.
It came to a stop about 200 feet down the slope of the mountain. Burgen says that from his observations, the guard railing may have been bent down, but not broken, from the impact with the vehicle.
Two Natrona County Sheriff’s Office deputies and a paramedic from the Wyoming Medical Center were the first on scene and were able to walk down to where the vehicle was located.
Burgen says that the WMC paramedic conducted a preliminary medical assessment of the individual in the vehicle at that point.
When Natrona County and Casper Fire-EMS crews arrived, they set up what is referred to as a “low-angle” rope rescue operation.
Casper Fire-EMS Department Public Information Officer Eric Christensen was not on scene, but explained aspects of the rescue operation on Wednesday.
He said that in rescue terminology, there are both “low-angle” and “high-angle” rope rescue operations. While the vertical degree involved in a rescue effort is part of what determines the classification, Christensen adds that the type of terrain is noteworthy as well.
He said that in essence, “high-angle” rope rescues refer to situations in which there is a risk of death or serious injury should a rope system fail, whereas “low-angle” refers to situations in which this risk is not as severe.
If the angle of the operation is relatively low, but the terrain below is a rocky scree-field, that may be considered a “high-angle” operation whereas an operation with grassy terrain below may be more likely to be classified as “low-angle.”
“High-angle” operations utilize a back-up rope whereas “low-angle” operations utilize only one main rope to lower responders.
Christensen says that fire crews set up anchors using a fire engine at Lookout Point on Tuesday. They utilized a second truck to redirect the rope to give personnel more room to operate during the drop.
A so-called “Stokes basket” attached to the end of the rope was used to lower some firefighters down to the location of the vehicle. This basket is a rescue stretcher which can be used to load a patient and haul them back up to safety or to receive treatment.
On Tuesday, since the driver of the vehicle sustained only minor injuries, they were able to get out of the vehicle and walk of their own accord. Christensen says that firefighters helped put the individual in a harness to ensure that they didn’t slip while making the way back up the slope of the mountain.
“Our priority is patient access,” Christensen says.
Once back up at Lookout Point, the individual was transferred over to the care of WMC responders.
Burgen says that while the mountain is under the county’s jurisdiction, he wanted to emphasize his appreciation for the mutual aid response. Casper firefighters were dropped down to the location of the car while Natrona County and Casper firefighters managed the rope system and hauling efforts from the top.
Casper firefighter Micah Rush was one of those responding on Tuesday night. Burgen says that Rush is a rope rescue specialist and worked as part of the haul team.
Rush also provides rope rescue training to Natrona County firefighters through his company “Peak Rescue.” Christensen is listed as one of Peak Rescue’s lead instructors as well.
County firefighters also take classes from a number of other organizations that offer such training nationwide. Burgen says that they attempt to practice their rope rescue skills on a monthly basis, time permitting, in order to stay fresh.
“We have to be jacks-of-all trades,” Burgen added.
Christensen says that Casper firefighters begin their rope rescue training all on the ground. They learn and practice how to set up rope systems.
They then move on to practice their skills at a tower at the Regional Fire Training Facility in Casper. Once they’ve honed their skills on the ground and at the tower, Christensen adds that firefighters may receive some on-site training on the mountain or at Fremont Canyon.
Christen says that Casper fire crews responding on Monday included Station 2’s Engine 2 and Station 1’s Engine 1, Rescue 1 and Fire 1.
Burgen says the county sent two firefighters with their Squad 7-2 crew, which is the county’s heavy rescue crew deployed in major rope rescue operations. He joined the response as well, representing the county’s Squad 7.