Firefighters get refresher course in rappelling

David Ortlund has spent the past five summers at a unique, unsung but vital seasonal job in Oregon. Then each autumn, the Northern Arizona University student has headed home to Flagstaff for another school year pursuing a history degree.

On Sunday, June 28, Ortlund and other men and women who comprise the
sixteen-member Rappel crew participated in training demonstrations at
the helibase near Merlin
He and a teammate donned
fire-fighting gear, and assembled  equipment packs weighing 80 to 110
lbs. Then Ortlund and one work partner had their turn in the spotlight.
The team climbed into the bright yellow US Forest Service helicopter
that lifted them to their target training spot. The chopper hovered 
approximately 200 feet overhead, and dropped weighted cords attached to
its side hatch doors. Both exit sources opened, each revealing a
rapeller in full regalia  who grasped the rope and made the descent. 
is how we attack fires in remote areas," said Paul Galloway,
Partnership Coordinator  for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest
Service. Some lightning- caused flame-ups occur where there’s no access
or paved roads for conventional fire suppression equipment to get
through, he added. "The rappellers do initial attacks of
fire-fighting."  A skilled team arrives,  slides down the ropes,
suppresses the burn, and stays until it’s declared "out."  "The Rappel
crews,  attain ‘Level two’ proficiency in their rigorous training.
That’s on a par with the Smokejumpers and Hot Shots."
for "Helitack" units must be experienced, physically fit,
well-conditioned and thoroughly trained. "Although the Rappel school
they attend in John Day, Oregon lasts one week," Galloway said, "they
actually undergo constant on-the-job training.  After each practice or
grueling work session, they go through debriefing sessions to sharpen 
their knowledge and skills."
According to Galloway, the
Helicopter (fire fighting) program began in the 1970’s. Although the
Rappel  program has been in existence since the ‘80s,  few in the
audience at Merlin on June 28 had ever heard of it before. 
and affable, Ortlund  said he loved his job, and looked forward to
returning each summer to continue in it. "I enjoy the camaraderie with
the others on the crew," he said.
When asked if he found
it scary to descend from a helicopter into an isolated burning area,
Ortlund replied, "The only thing I ever worry about is doing something
to mess up. I like to protect our forest lands, and my fellow
By F. C. Blake
Of the Independent

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