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Firefighters train for rescues at Morro Rock - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Firefighters train for rescues at Morro Rock

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It is illegal to climb Morro Rock but emergency personnel still find themselves responding to rescues at the Morro Bay landmark.

On Tuesday, the Morro Bay Fire Department held a rope-and-helicopter rescue drill for good reason and practice. According to Morro Bay Fire Department Captain Todd Gailey, crews are dispatched to calls of people trespassing and attempting to hike Morro Rock frequently.

In April 2016, Gailey was one of the crew members called to rescue a man from the top of the rock. Tuesday's training, which happens every two years, was preparing other personnel for potentially similar situations.

"The only way that we have the opportunity to execute such great rescues with such precision is from training like we're getting today," Gailey said.

Gailey said most of those rescued from the rock are either from out of town or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Most of those victims or patients insist they had no idea it's illegal to hike the rock.

Outside of its dangerous and rugged terrain, there are other reasons it's illegal to climb the rock.

"It means a lot to our tribe, even our neighboring tribes," said Donald Pierce Jr., a guide for the Salinan Tribe. "It's a sacred place. It's like a church."

The Salinan Tribe said it has a good relationship with the Morro Bay Fire Department, allowing training to take place. Other agencies were also involved, including California State Parks, Cal Fire San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo County Fire, Five Cities Fire Authority, San Luis Obispo City Fire and Morro Bay Police Department. 

The morning started off with the helicopter rescue training, which included CHP's helicopter H-70 that operates out of the Paso Robles Airport. Four firefighters who are also part of the Urban Search and Rescue team in San Luis Obispo County took turns rescuing a would-be person in distress.

"We just hiked our victims into place, you can see one up on the rock there. So our four victims are in place waiting to be rescued," Gailey said.

The four would-be victims, who were Morro Bay Fire Department personnel, were staged on the rock and then put into safety harnesses before being hoisted above into the helicopter.

Meanwhile, Morro Bay Police officers were on the ground using their new drones to assist in the drills and capture footage.

"We're going to be using drones in cases and times when we need to have a quick investigation of the rock, take a look at the rock, who's on the rock, find their locations," Morro Bay Fire Chief Steve Knuckles said. 

When rescue from the air is not an option, especially when it comes to weather, crews have to climb. Part of the drill on Monday included two rope rescue operations.

"We have to think outside the box up there," Gailey said. "We got to utilize a lot of strategies that we're trained on but we don't always necessarily have to implement - but we do have to implement those things here at Morro Rock."

Related content:
Man rescued after climbing Morro Rock in effort to propose to girlfriend over FaceTime
Man rescued after Morro Rock marriage proposal also facing drug-related charges

Out-of-towners cited for climbing Morro Rock

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