‘Real-world training’: Rescue teams prepare to ‘save lives’

Civilian and military rescue personnel gained valuable experience on Friday, as the Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team hosted a hoist-training session at the Benner Spring State Fish Hatchery.

The PA-HART includes the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the state Fish and Boat Commission and the Army National Guard.

Its mission is to rapidly deploy, and conduct air and water rescue operations, said Ryan Walt, a strike-team leader and a watercraft safety manager with the Fish and Boat Commission.

“When Pennsylvania is hit with large-scale natural disasters like a flood, the first thing to do is not drive through the flooded roadways,” Walt said. “When that happens, there is often an evacuation or search-and-rescue mission that PA-HART can complete, and ultimately save lives.”

Groups consisting of four strike teams, including a five-member boat crew, were on scene for the training, in which crew members simulated possible emergency occurrences.

With about a dozen crew technicians and another dozen Army National Guard pilots and flight-crew members, the training included situations with people stranded on Spring Creek and others stranded in the nearby woods.

“This is our way of getting ready in all conditions from our natural surroundings to the weather,” Walt said. “We train in the wilderness areas to see how to maneuver ourselves between the trees, and on the open water or ice. Everything is a factor in training and survival with day and night missions.”

Members including Scott Graham, a strike-team leader, were dropped from UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache helicopters. Trainers and trainees on the aircraft hoisted up the rescued individuals.

“This is our primary platform,” Walt said of the hoist search-and-rescue missions.

PA-HART was initiated in 2006 and became fully operational in the commonwealth in 2011, Walt said. Since then, training has been conductedtwice a month at different locations around the state.

The training came in handy in 2011, when crew members were sent on rescue missions during Tropical Storm Lee’s trek through the state.

Walt said the team didn’t have aviation assets at the time, but the PEMA teams from across the state worked together by boat in rescue efforts.

The team conducted 67 rescues, and 128 people were evacuated during that storm’s aftermath, Walt said.

“All these trainings prepare us for exactly what we can expect in an emergency,” Walt said. “It’s basically to do real-world training and see how we work together as a team to save money, resources and lives.”