By Steve Hubrecht
About a week or so prior to the start of the Christmas holidays, Invermere residents and visitors may have noticed plenty of helicopters flying overhead, the result of a large scale avalanche rescue simulation conducted by several valley organizations.
The training exercise was initiated by Coldstream Helicopters and involved Columbia Valley Search and Rescue, Panorama Mountain Resort ski patrol, RK Heliski, the Panorama fire department and the Columbia Valley RCMP.
This is the first time weve done a multi-agency response simulation, Coldstream president Robert Gallagher told The Pioneer. We did get a lot of people calling, and wondering what was going on. Its OK, it was just training.
The exercise was held in Taynton Bowl, just outside the current boundaries of Panorama Mountain Resort, and involved multiple helicopters flying in and out of Invermere and Panorama on Monday, December 12th. Further helicopter pilot training was conducted over the next several days.
The simulation scenario was of a multi-burial avalanche, with varying levels of injuries (ranging from extremely critical to less critical), and involved more than 40 rescue and response personnel at the scene.
It went really well. It was quite successful. Well probably do one every year now, said Mr. Gallagher.
Coldstream decided to organize the training exercise, in part, because the company had been operating on a seasonal basis in the valley for the past six winters, but this fall decided to set up at the Invermere airport year-round a move that entailed stationing several rescue aircraft at the airport permanently.
We had an opportunity, since we have the aircraft, for training, so we thought we should make use of it, said Mr. Gallagher. It was quite a large scale response.
The exercise from call out to getting 40 people on scene, rescuing the simulated victims, and getting everybody off the mountain took 40 minutes. Including the briefing and debriefing, the entire simulation lasted fewer than two hours.
Which is pretty impressive, were happy with that, said Mr. Gallagher.
The decision for Coldstream, which has its headquarters in Kelowna, to set up a permanent base in the Columbia Valley, which will be managed by valley resident Greg Flowitt, came because, we saw there was a need here. A large portion of our summer work is dispatches into Alberta or the mountain parks, so it makes sense for us to have a base here, said Mr. Gallager, adding that the company is also thinking of moving some of its heavy maintenance work here, which would result in employment for about 20 people.
Coldstreams business includes offering services for fire response in the summer, rescue work year-round, leasing to heliski companies (including RK Heliski) in the winter, as well as construction work, particularly for the hydro-electric industry, and air taxi services.