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Jackson County Fire District No. 3 and Medford Fire Department firefighters take part in a high-angle rope training drill on the roof of the Rogue Valley Mall in Medford Friday, Mail Tribune photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

This is a drill

Rogue Valley Mall shoppers had reason for concern Friday as they watched firefighters work to save a "patient" who fell 20 feet from the mall's roof onto the concrete below.

This particular patient was not in danger, though. It was a 150-pound dummy used in high-stress training exercises such as the ones conducted over the past two days in the mall parking lot.

Medford Fire Department crews teamed up with Jackson County Fire District No. 3 firefighters in a joint three-day training exercise that is meant to hone their rope skills.

The last day of training is scheduled for today near the mall, District 3 spokesman Don Hickman said.

"It's a good idea for us to train with Medford like this because we are constantly rolling through each other's jurisdictions," Hickman said. "We aid each other so often that we want to be on the same page."

Friday's exercise involved placing the dummy onto a concrete landing near the Macy's store.

The crews treated the exercise like a true emergency, being sure to keep each other abreast of the action on their radios and coordinating with the rope team positioned on the roof.

The scenario was that the "patient" was strapped in a harness to work on the building's facade high above the ground.

He then slipped from the harness and fell 20 feet into a platform above the parking lot.

The sides of the platform were built up with scrapboard to recreate a narrow shaft, making it more difficult for rescue crews to reach and stabilize the dummy.

Two firefighters were dispatched to the dummy, while a crew rushed to the roof to set up a pulley system that would lift the dummy out of the shaft and onto the parking lot.

Medford Fire Department Battalion Chief Justin Bates said the scenario was loosely scripted to give it a more realistic feel.

"Each one of these rescues is different," Bates said. "You never know what you're going to encounter. Sometimes it can take 20 minutes, sometimes it can take more than an hour, depending on the injuries and where the victim is placed."

The firefighters working the dummy scene pretended to take its pulse and monitor its breathing as they set it onto a spine board. They then firmly strapped it onto a basket to lower it onto the ground.

Meanwhile, they kept in touch with the rope team on the roof, who secured the pulley system to a large air conditioning unit atop the mall.

After the dummy was stabilized, the crews slowly pulled the basket out of the shaft and gently lowered it to the parking lot.

"You really have to know what you're doing on these rope rescues," Hickman said. "A mistake can be fatal. You don't want the patient sliding out of the basket 30 feet above the ground."

The training is meant for possible emergencies at some of the Rogue Valley's taller structures such as the Rogue Valley Manor and the Lithia headquarters building being constructed in downtown Medford.

After getting the dummy safely to the ground, the firefighters gathered in a circle atop the mall to discuss what went right and what could have gone smoother with the rescue.

"You're always wanting to get better," Bates said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or by email at cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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