By Tim Jagielo
Holly Twp. — On Monday, June 3, first responders with North Oakland County Fire Authority (NOCFA) armed with GPS units hiked through the West Loop of the Holly-Holdridge Mountain Bike Trail.
They kept to trails and cut through the foliage to better reach the assigned GPS location. In the event of an emergency, this could be the location of an injured person on or near the trail.
They planned to repeat the exercise Wednesday night.
This isn’t a hypothetical scenario either. On Memorial Day, NOCFA extracted an injured person from two miles into the narrow trail system via four-wheeler and recue apparatus. They recreated the scenario Monday.
According to Ronald Arnott, Holly Trail coordinator, bike traffic at Holdridge has more than doubled in the last five years. “Improved signage and wider cut trails are part of the equation, more money in the economy and better affordable equipment are also part of the equation,” Arnott said.
With the uptick in outdoor recreation, NOCFA is working on adding another set of special skills to their department — wide area “search and rescue” (SAR). This training would apply to an area such as the mountain bike trails or anywhere rural where a street address isn’t applicable.
NOCFA Capt. Tim Seal led the training. He said the department is working to build a more advanced skill level in this type of SAR. Seal said they’re advancing from an “awareness level” of training to “operations level” of training. Monday was basically learning “ins and outs” of wide area SAR.
This training should enhance their ability to assist with injured or lost people. Dehydration, fractures and in the cold, hypothermia, are risks in larger wooded areas. Seal said they’ve even responded to a suicide in the trail system.
They’re also integrating better technology into their plan. NOCFA Lt. Joe Durocher led the small group into the woods. Using U.S. National Grid (USNG) coordinates instead of regular GPS allowed them to find the location quicker than during the actual rescue.
This system is accurate up to 30 feet away from a set of coordinates, unlike a ping from a cell tower, which is far less accurate.
The drawback is that the smartphone user must provide the coordinates to dispatch to get quicker assistance.
Seal urges smartphone users to download the MyUSNG phone application (app). This system uses the National Grid system, and functions apart from the GPS system. “Help us help you in your time of need,” Seal said. He also suggests never using the trails alone.
For large-scale incidents, Durocher said NOCFA can also bring in the Mutual Aid Box Alarm (MABAS) 3201 Technical resource team, and MI Task Force 1.