CUMBERLAND — A specially-trained aerial rescue team comprised of Cumberland firefighters and the Cumberland Section of the Maryland State Police Aviation Command is the only one of its kind within the region. The next nearest such response team is located in Frederick County.
The Cumberland Fire Department Helicopter Emergency Aerial Team was initiated in 2003 by then Fire Chief William Herbaugh and the Maryland State Police Aviation Division, Trooper 5.
The initial members of the Cumberland Fire Department HEAT team in 2003 were: Capt. William Davis (who now leads the team), Capt. Sam Wilson, Capt. Chris Ratliff, Lt. Steve Grogg, Lt. Vince Pyle, Equipment Operators Steve Hout and Ed Kenner, and Paramedics Doug Beitzel and Jim Kucharczyk.
The initial training included aircraft familiarization and safety, crew resource management, training on hoist rescue insertion/extraction techniques and rescue basket deployment and management.
Annual dynamic training allows for the execution of all the aforementioned topics in a controlled training environment which provides an arena for evaluation of the team’s deployment techniques.
Members of the HEAT team are certified in High Angle Rescue and Swiftwater Rescue.
The team operates primarily in Maryland’s Region 1, which includes Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties, but also is on call as a resource to other regions within the state as well as regions of Western Pennsylvania, Northern West Virginia and Northern Virginia.
The Cumberland Fire Department HEAT team is one of several teams which utilize a joint partnership between fire departments and the Maryland State Police Aviation Division.
The team has been very active since it was formed eight years ago.
Deployments have ranged from a power plant smokestack rescue in Moundsville, W.Va., in March 2006; a mine rescue in Fairmont,W.Va.; a wilderness rescue in Dolly Sods, W.Va.; swiftwater deployments to the Potomac River in Washington County; two downed aircraft in the region of the Jefferson National Forest, W.Va., as well as mountain rescues in Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties.
In September 2010, four members of the team: Civilian Pilot Scott Russell, Senior Trooper Lance Shank, Lt. Vince Pyle and Firefighter Steve Hout were awarded the Maryland State Police Certificate of Valor for a winter mountain rescue.
Currently, the team has 14 members led by Capt. William Davis. Team members include: Capt. Sam Wilson, Capt. Chris Ratliff, Capt. Daron Winters, Cumberland Fire Marshal/Lt. Shannon Adams, Lt. Vince Pyle, FF/EMT-P Steve Adams, FF/EMT-P Doug Beitzel, FF/EMT-P Mike Salvadge, EO/EMT-P Terry Puffinburger, EO/FF Ed Kenner, EO/FF Jeff Wagoner, EO/FF Steve Hout, FF/EMT Jon Miller.
“The Maryland State Police Aviation Command is honored to have such an exceptional working relationship with the Cumberland Fire Department’s HEAT team. Since the team first became operational, the enhancements to MSP Aviation’s aerial rescue program have been numerous,” said Maryland State Police Flight Paramedic Alex Kelly, of the Cumberland section of MSP Aviation Command.
“In the past, when Trooper 5 was called upon to perform a hoist rescue, we would explain to the rescuers on the ground — either with a rapid face to face briefing after landing on-scene or via the radio while overhead — what we needed them to do. This system worked well enough, and it was all that we had. There was clearly room for improvement. Aerial rescue is the most demanding mission for the helicopter and its crew,” Kelly said.
“Since the advent of the HEAT team we can now perform what were once complicated and, by their nature, risky operations in the safest and quickest way possible.
“The MSP pilots and trooper/flight paramedics train regularly with the CFD HEAT team so we are intimately familiar with each other’s equipment and procedures,” said Kelly.
The proximity of the Cumberland Fire Department in the Public Safety Building on Bedford Street to Trooper 5’s hangar at the Greater Cumberland Regional Airport is also beneficial.
“We have the luxury of departing for missions with the HEAT team on board without prolonging our response time. The average response time for the team to the hangar is eight minutes. This is just enough time for the flight crew to reconfigure the aircraft cabin from its typical medevac role to hoisting.”
The other HEAT teams in the state typically meet the helicopter at a pre-arranged location for pick-up due to the fact that they are not close to the hangars.
“The dedicated members of the Cumberland City Fire Department HEAT team have enhanced the speed, safety and capability of the aerial rescue services the MSP Aviation Command delivers to its customers,” said Kelly.