3TV goes up in the air to see how firefighter rescue works

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- When lives are on the line, firefighters know every second counts.  A rescue mission like the one that occurred near Tortilla Flats Tuesday is an operation they constantly practice for and perfect.

"You have to practice.  That's why we train all the time because if you don't use it, you lose it," said Apache Junction Fire Engineer Mark Blackstone, who's also part of the technical rescue team. "Our guys are taught, we can have the lines hooked up, the rappel line, the safety line up. I can be over the edge in minutes, and get down to that patient in minutes."

Blackstone helped take part in Tuesday's rescue after a truck rolled off SR88 near Fish Creek Hill.  Three of the occupants managed to walk to safety, but the fourth, an injured woman, had to be hoisted out using special equipment.

"She wasn't quite with us; she knew her name and maybe able to open her eyes a little bit, but, obviously, she showed us she had some severe head injuries," said Blackstone.

The Technical Rescue Team determined a rope and pulley system with a basket would be the best way to safely lift the woman to safety.  Apache Junction Fire showed 3TV how equipment works by letting me gear up.

However, they lifted me only 40 feet.  Firefighters say in the actual rescue, the woman was lifted about 400 feet.  Crews were also dealing with the rough desert terrain of the canyon and an injured patient who needed urgent medical help.

“This rope rescue system really enables our guys to do it very smoothly and to use the least amount of manpower, allowing us to do several things at one time,” said Deputy Fire Chief Dave Montgomery. “Without the ability to use the rope, pulley system, the only other option is to physically carry that patient out, and again, for someone who’s severely injured, that can be traumatic.”