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Rescue training operation helps agencies work together while raising awareness about workplace mental health

A training exercise was held near Quidi Vidi on Thursday involving all of the local first-responder agencies that work on land, sea and air. The scenarios involved lowering a patient down a cliffside to a waiting fast-rescue craft by members of the St. John’s Regional Fire Department’s high-angle rescue team, a lost hiker being airlifted by paramedics via a Universal helicopter and a person in distress airlifted by medics in a Cougar Helicopter search and rescue chopper.
A training exercise was held near Quidi Vidi on Thursday involving all of the local first-responder agencies that work on land, sea and air. The scenarios involved lowering a patient down a cliffside to a waiting fast-rescue craft by members of the St. John’s Regional Fire Department’s high-angle rescue team, a lost hiker being airlifted by paramedics via a Universal helicopter and a person in distress airlifted by medics in a Cougar Helicopter search and rescue chopper. - Joe Gibbons

The basket that carried a man down the side of a cliff was at times almost completely vertical.

Straight below, there was nothing but ocean and sharp rock.

It took about 40 minutes for the St. John’s Regional Fire Department’s high-angle rescue team to carefully lower the basket to an awaiting Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) fast-rescue craft as reporters and others watched Thursday afternoon in a sheltered cove near Quidi Vidi Village in St. John’s.

It wasn’t a real rescue effort. It was staged. But there was nothing fake about the skill, rigour and teamwork needed to do it.

Many, including RNC Chief Joe Boland, watched in awe as members of the different emergency response agencies performed several high-pressure tasks during a staged search-and-rescue training exercise, dubbed Operation Cliffhanger.

The exercise was held to give the agencies an opportunity to test and assess their personnel and equipment in a controlled environment and enhance their joint response to real emergencies.

“Training alongside partner agencies is critical to our collaborate efforts to keep the community safe and to be prepared for emergency situations,” Boland said.

“As chief of police, I’m proud not only of the members of our team, but of the exceptional work by all of the organizations who helped make today a huge success.”

It was also a fundraiser for the Health Care Foundation to help raise awareness about the importance of supporting mental health and addictions programs in the community.

Of the 20 people who participated, including the almost dozen “victims,” all were volunteers who donated money to the foundation. In all, $100,000 was raised.

Besides the St. John’s Regional Fire Department and Canadian Coast Guard, other groups that took part in the event included the RNC, the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (NL), Eastern Health’s paramedicine and medical transport, Newfoundland and Labrador Search and Rescue Association (Rovers ground search and rescue), Universal helicopters, Cougar helicopters and the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association — all of which play a role in the event of such an emergency.

The staged emergency used for Thursday’s operation began with a call from a man who reported seeing a frazzled young woman come out of the woods at Cuckle’s Cove. The woman, who was cut and bruised, told him a few of her friend fell off the cliff, while others ran into the woods in a frenzied state after consuming drugs.

The exercise showed the checklist of actions taken and the various roles played by each agency in such emergencies — from the arrival of police and an ambulance to the call for other resources.

It also involved a member of the Rovers repelling from a Universal helicopter to retrieve one person, while, shortly after, a Cougar helicopter picked up others.

Jackie O’Brien, senior manager of communication with the Health Care Foundation, said the exercise was a real eye-opener.

“We’ve giving people the opportunity to really see what these (responders) go through every single day,” she said. “Doing so, they’ll realize the need for mental health services to support them for things like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and workplace mental health injuries.

“You hear about what these people do and you read about it in the news or social media, but being here today and getting to observe it first hand, seeing the amount of skills, training and expertise that’s needed, is just mind-blowing.

“It was a wonderful experience for all involved.”

rosie.mullaley@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelyRosie

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