Phoenix Fire explains preparations for mountain calls ahead of warm weekend

Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 8:27 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — As we head into a hot weekend with temperatures possibly in the triple digits, the Phoenix Fire Department is making sure they are ready to hike up our Valley trails if someone needs help. The department has a technical rescue team, which focuses specifically on these rescues and now we are getting a better look at what goes into these calls.

The most common type of rescue for them during the summer months is mountain rescues. They also respond to other rescues like swift water and tree rescues. We spoke with a captain on the team who says these types of calls can sometimes require as many as 20 firefighters going up a mountain just to get one person down. They’re also time-consuming. “If somebody would hurt themselves at the top of Camelback, historically it’s taken crews three hours to get them down,” Phoenix Fire Capt. Patrick O’Neill said.

As we approach the hottest months of the year, the Phoenix Fire Department’s technical rescue team is training weekly to ensure they are prepared to respond if hikers need help. “They’re labor intensive and resource rich calls in which we need a lot of people,” O’Neill said.

Firefighters saved eight people from the heat while they were hiking Camelback Mountain and filming a reality show called "Bad Girls Gone God."

He says it isn’t uncommon for them to be coming down the mountain with a patient while getting a call for another one at the top. “One of the biggest things people say is that I had no idea it was this hard. I had no idea it would be this hot,” he said.

During the hottest months last year, there were 19 fewer rescues than in 2021. It could be because the city of Phoenix began its program shutting down trails when we are under excessive heat warnings. “That dropped a lot of those calls of which certainly was needed,” O’Neill said.

He said there are times when they respond to three to five rescues within a day, on top of all their other calls. “That spreads all our resources extremely thin and we sent guys to the hospital once. It was a bad deal,” O’Neill said. He added that the fastest mountain rescues are possible when a helicopter is involved. “They could be off the mountain in less than 10 minutes,” he said.

When that isn’t possible, they will use a big wheel which takes six to eight firefighters to carry it down. “This thing can bounce off boulders and walk along a trail,” he said. He encourages people to call 911 if they need help but says it’s important that you are prepared. “Hiking these mountains require more than converse or vans to hike. You need to have proper footwear and have proper hydration and tons and tons of water.”

O’Neill says most mountain rescue calls in the winter are because of ankle injuries but in the summer, it’s due to dehydration. Hydration is key for firefighters too. O’Neill says they are starting to get cold baths at stations to help them stay cool.