Horses and Helicopters

The heady fragrance of fresias is in the air, new friendships are afoot and helicopters, yes, helicopters are a-hover.

Through my work both as a volunteer at the local animal shelter and as part of several disaster preparedness groups, I had the extreme good fortune to be able to participate in a large animal rescue drill last Friday.  These annual drills include the big LA County Urban Search and Rescue rigs with cranes and such, and also helicopters.  Due mainly to the helicopters and the potential dangers inherent with them, I was not going to be allowed to participate, but as long as I could be there, I’d take whatever was offered.

Fate being what it is, the weather had been rainy the day before and it was still heavily overcast on the day of.  My firefighter/paramedic neighbor had already given me the heads up that it didn’t look like a helicopter day to him.

Still, I made my way up to the North East San Fernando landfill, climbing two miles up to where the helipad and the exercise site was.  Sandwiches and thermos in the car, I was ready to settle in for the duration, at a distance, if necessary.

Sure enough, when I arrived I was told that there would be no helicopters this time due to the weather conditions.  As much as I love helicopters, I was still more than excited to witness the exercise.  So, helmet on, camera in hand, I stepped in and started to videotape some of the activities.  Whereupon, I was asked if I’d like to participate?!!  Here’s the little 2 min. video that I actually took and if you listen carefully at the end, you’ll hear that question being asked.  Needless to say I switched from observer to participant in an instant!  DARTexcerpt3-16-12

And just like that, wonderfully guided by the LA County Fire Department / Urban Search and Rescue personnel, my team and I hooked up a horse both standing and laying down (the one standing in the video is “Thunder Bob” – 100% plastic!) to what’s called an Anderson Frame; then we hooked up a different style sling/cradle with Thunder Bob laying down; we hobbled, tied and maneuvered another downed horse (this guy was also full-size, but a heavier, jointed rubber horse called “Lucky”) onto a sled; and finally, I had some one-on-one time with Riley, the drill captain Frank’s live horse, and got a refresher on tacking up and untacking, plus a first hand demonstration of the trailer-ing process.

This learning opportunity, as well as working with the members of LADACC-ERT (LA Department of Animal Care and Control, Equine Rescue Team) – several of whom I had met and trained a little with previously – was a rare and special day for me.  It’s the kind of hands-on training that sticks with you.  My son is currently an Explorer with the LA County Fire Department and I was thrilled at the thought not only that he might one day be doing this for real, but also that I will have an understanding of it when he does.

But wait, there’s more.  As we stood chatting at the end of the afternoon, suddenly a red and white chopper with the words “Fire Attack” emblazoned on its belly, swooped in over our heads and landed on the helipad.  Its crew were there to stretch the winch cable. They hook the cable to a weight that’s secured with a rope on the ground by a couple of crew members, then the helicopter lifts off and hovers above it.  As I watched, I got to see the effects of the downdraft, blasting great clouds of dust and dirt, which my team members had pointed out earlier gets into absolutely every orifice, and which makes up a good chunk of the usual conditions for the drill I’d just participated in.  I totally lucked out!  Here are some photos.


Picture 20 of 20

Landing again

I guess I got to have my cake and eat it too, didn’t I?!




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