Firefighters and rescuers who patrol the Angeles National Forest respond to hundreds of incidents every year, ranging from cars that fall off the highway to hikers who become lost or injured.
On Friday morning, they practiced hoisting victims from a helicopter and up the side of the cliff, techniques that could one day be used to save a life. It was the first day of an annual Los Angeles County training exercise. Montrose Search and Rescue, Altadena Search and Rescue, Urban Search and Rescue, Los Angeles County Air Operations and the U.S. Forest Service all participated.
While the emergency responders learned what to do in a rescue situation, the three-day program is also designed to build relationships between agencies, said Ron Larriva, a battalion chief for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
“You may be in the same department, but if you’re not used to working with somebody, it’s a whole different ballpark,” he said.
Last year, the number of incidents increased overall and the county’s search and rescue teams were dispatched to 560 missions.
“It’s been a record year for us,” said Sgt. Burton Brink of the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station.
That could be due in part to the proliferation of videos on the Internet, said Mike Leum, Los Angeles County reserve chief of search and rescue.
“To some degree, I think social media has played a role because people post videos on the Internet of some extreme activities and other people see it and think, that’s cool!” he said.
For example, in Eaton Canyon an increasing number of hikers were injured or died while trekking to one of the trail’s popular waterfalls over the past couple of years.
Leum said those who are heading off on a solo hike should tell a friend or relative of their plans. Many times, officials are searching blindly in an area because it’s unknown where the missing person is located, he said.
Leum, who was the first rescuer to spot a missing 18-year-old woman four days after she became lost while hiking in Orange County earlier this month, said it’s important to educate the public about being prepared.
“I’m all about people enjoying the forest,” he said. “The problem that we’ve been having lately is more and more people seem to go into the forest unprepared.”