Adirondack forest rangers put new rescue gear to good use
By Mike De Socio
Forest rangers in the Adirondacks are now using a new piece of gear that has made it safer and quicker to transport patients out of the woods.
The “wheeled litters,” as they are called, were used on multiple wilderness rescues toward the end of May, according to a recent ranger report. The new piece of equipment resembles a stretcher with a large bicycle wheel underneath.
“The tool is proving to be useful in rescue missions conducted across the state and DEC plans to deploy at least one litter wheel system to each of the 16 Division of Forest Protection zones,” a DEC spokesperson said in an email.
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The agency said it has already deployed the wheeled litters in regions 3,4,5,6 and 9. They’re primarily being used in the Catskills, Lake George, and High Peaks area of the Adirondacks.
“They are an invaluable tool for forest rangers on patrol performing difficult and dangerous evacuations of injured individuals,” the DEC spokesperson said.
Rangers are able to carry the wheel in a backpack-type bag. When attached to the litter, the wheel helps bear the weight of the patient, enabling rescuers to roll the patient out instead of carrying the full weight, the DEC said.
“This can make an enormous difference in difficult rescues involving larger individuals. As a result, the wheel makes the transport of the patient out of the woods safer and quicker, reduces fatigue of the rescuers and, depending on the incident, can reduce the number of rangers needed for a rescue,” the spokesperson said.
Rescues hit record levels
Reducing strain on the rangers is a crucial improvement during a period when rescue missions have reached record highs along with record levels of tourism in the park. Forest rangers conducted 285 rescues in 2020 across the Adirondacks.
“There is certainly a COVID boost, but if you look at the trends from the past decade, it has been a consistent upward movement,” retired forest ranger Scott van Laer told the Adirondack Explorer last fall.
Although some rescues are resulting from inexperienced hikers who get lost or run out of water, lower leg injuries are also a big source of incidents.
Wheeled litters are commonly used in other parts of the country with similar terrain, such as Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
In a 2014 report, emergency medicine professor Keith Conover noted that wheeled litters do have some drawbacks as well. The wheels can be heavy to carry, and rocky trails can make for a bumpy ride that would be especially risky for a patient with a spinal injury, for example.
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