Two decades ago, a Florida man who had a heart attack at the top of the Astoria Column was saved in a dramatic rescue.
On Saturday, the Clatsop County Sheriff’s High Angle Rescue Team turned the events of that day into a training exercise.
Dozens of emergency responders from several North Coast fire and police departments came out to re-create the rescue, practicing the unusual and technical skills needed to get an injured patient down from the 125-foot tower. The last time a drill like this was done was in 2011.
“We want to keep our training up,” said Margaret Strozyk-Hayes, the rescue team’s coordinator. “The more training we do, the faster we can work in a real event.”
Throughout the day, firefighters and law enforcement practiced different ways of lowering a basket carrying a dummy down from the observation deck of the Column to the ground, including one scenario for high winds and another for calmer days.
Part of the mission was to give emergency responders a chance to work together and get familiar with the scenario, Strozyk-Hayes said. Only one of the team members participating in Saturday’s drill was part of the original rescue.
Another goal was to further refine some of the techniques that troubled emergency responders the first time around. Getting a patient up and over the high railing around the observation deck has always been a challenge.
This time, however, the team had access to a new tool: a drone.
Instead of hauling rope manually, Hamlet Fire Chief Matt Verley flew supplies straight up to the top with his drone, saving the team time and energy.
Dena Tuveng, a docent for the Column, watched from the base as crews slowly lowered the basket down a diagonal rope line.
“You know, people ask about rescues all the time up here. They act like they’re joking, but you can tell they’re a little serious,” Tuveng said. “Now I can tell them how it works.”