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Search and rescue looking for equipment certainty

Agencies sorting out certification issue



As if conducting a search and rescue mission wasn't tough enough, a key piece of rescue equipment was deemed off limits to volunteer rescue teams across B.C. this week.

Emergency Management B.C. ruled the manufacturer of the long line equipment used for helicopter rescues in difficult terrain can no longer be used. The long lines, known as Helicopter External Transport Systems (HETS), are manufactured by just one company in Canada at a reported cost of about $35,000 and Transport Canada ruled that company had no manufacturing and maintenance authority so the government agencies ruled the equipment can't be used.

Bernie Protsch, the Ski Patrol Manager at Whistler Blackcomb, said he was watching the issue closely as his team makes use of the rescue equipment in question. He said the equipment is integral to his team's ability to carry out rescues.

"Whistler Blackcomb has its own HETS technicians and we work hand-in-hand with search and rescue as well," Protsch said.

He was optimistic that the issue would be sorted out quickly.

"There's going to be a Transport Canada announcement coming out shortly," said Protsch.

Brad Sills of Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) said the equipment has been used in at least 200 rescues over the course of the past 15 years.

Sills described the situation as a certification issue that may be worked out through the filing of some papers by the manufacturer of the HETS apparatus.

"The danger for the search and rescue community is that we have to revert back to older practices which increases the likelihood of using heli-hover exits and hot loading," said Sills.

Sills explained that hot loading is placing a patient into a helicopter that is still running. The older methods used before HETS equipment was perfected put rescuers at greater risk.

"It was developed to minimize the risk to rescuers," Sills said of the HETS system. "We're still going to provide the services we've always offered."

As of Pique's deadline a number of media outlets reported that the issue had been resolved but no official announcements had been made from either Emergency Management B.C. or Transport Canada.

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