Fort Benning, local fire departments partner for rescue operation

The Columbus and Phenix City Fire Departments prepare to set the rescue dummy on the Chattahoochee River during the swiftwater rescue operation July 19. (Photos by Markeith Horace/MCoE PAO Photographer)

The Columbus and Phenix City Fire Departments prepare to set the rescue dummy on the Chattahoochee River during the swiftwater rescue operation July 19.

By Gerald Williams, Bayonet & Saber /

The Columbus and Phenix City Fire Departments joined with the Fort Benning Air Ambulance Detachment in a swiftwater hoist training exercise July 19 at the City Mills Dam on the Chattahoochee River.

According to Maj. Brian Smith, Fort Benning Air Ambulance Detachment, the exercise consisted of a dummy, simulated as an injured civilian, stranded on the rocks of the Chattahoochee River. The exercise simulated a call made by the local fire departments to send out a Black Hawk from Lawson Army Airfield to the Chattahoochee River. The helicopter hoisted up the civilian by stretcher and delivered them to Midtown Medical Center.

“Collaboration between the local fire departments and the Fort Benning Air Ambulance Detachment is what’s important in this exercise,” said Smith. “It’s about coming together and seeing what assets Fort Benning has. For us, it’s the training. It is our wartime mission that we can do here and actually serve a purpose in the local area.”

“If we had a real world, major incident of significance, all three of these entities would have to come together and work as a single unit,” said Lt. Chuck Herlth, training officer for the Columbus Fire Department. “The only way to do that smoothly is to train with each other in order to learn each other’s capabilities and what we’re not able to do.”

“We’ve learned a lot from the Fort Benning Fire Department and they’ve learned a lot from us. They are just as excited about the training as we are. That fuels us and makes us want to do more,” he added.

Columbus, Phenix City and Fort Benning Fire and Rescue units along with the Fort Benning Air Ambulance Detachment performed a swiftwater rescue July 19 on the Chattahoochee River. (Photos by Markeith Horace/MCoE PAO Photographer)

Columbus, Phenix City and Fort Benning Fire and Rescue units along with the Fort Benning Air Ambulance Detachment performed a swiftwater rescue July 19 on the Chattahoochee River. (Photos by Markeith Horace/MCoE PAO Photographer)

Having access to a helicopter that can hoist people up safely and efficiently is an option that Smith and Herlth both agree are important to the overall safety of Columbus and Phenix City.

“The police department has a helicopter here, however, it does not have hoist capabilities,” said Smith. “Nearby places, like LaGrange, have helicopters as well, but it would take an estimated time of about 45 minutes for it to get here. So, we are the only installation that’s close enough to perform hoisting within a reasonable time.”

“Usually the fire departments would use boats to rescue civilians, but with hoist capability they have more options to help civilians,” Smith added.

“In this scenario, a kayaker struck a rock and lost their motor senses to the lower extremities. So us trying to carry him across the rocks would probably paralyze him,” said Herlth.

“Taking him downriver is not an option because of the rapids. With the use of an aircraft, we can get him off the river safely so that we don’t cause spinal compromise. This is the perfect incident in which we would call the Fort Benning Air Ambulance for help.”

Smith added that three weeks ago a medevac was launched at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in response to civilians caught in a flood on the nearby Pea River. The civilians were successfully rescued.

This prompted the Columbus and Phenix City Fire Departments to reach out to the Fort Benning Air Ambulance Detachment for assistance in case a similar event should occur.

“The big picture is being able to save someone’s life in the end,” said Herlth.

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