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New SLO City Fire tool will quicken response times to hiking rescues

Posted at 10:13 PM, May 03, 2018

 Officials with the San Luis Obispo City Fire Department says they’ve significantly cut down their response time to hiking rescues around the city. 

As the weather warms up and the sun sticks around longer, locals and visitors will be using the city’s open spaces. 

Fire officials say more than 100 people a day visit Bishop Peak alone, but with exploration and adventure, incidents can occur. Plenty of times, people have been forced to call 911 and get help. Whether it’s for dehydration, twisted ankles or even falls, paramedics and firefighters have responded. 

“It’s mostly heat exhaustion, that is the main incident we are responding to,” said Billy Nason, a paramedic-firefighter with San Luis Obispo City Fire.

San Luis Obispo City firefighters are now using a county-funded Polaris to provide faster aid. A $33,000 grant paid for the new Polaris and rescuer training.

On Thursday, every city firefighter came out to Bishop Peak to work with the new equipment. 

San Luis Obispo City firefighters say when summer rolls around, they are responding twice a month for rescues around city hiking areas. 

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase of rescues just because we have out-of-towners coming in and utilizing our open space and trails more than we ever have before,” Nason said.

Molly Cluff, a San Luis Obispo resident, says she often hikes Bishop Peak. 

“Since it’s so popular, people don’t realize that it’s kind of dangerous and at the top, you have to be careful,” Cluff said. “It’s fairly easy, but as you get closer to the top it gets super rocky and I know the first time I went up there I got too scared to climb up to the very peak because it’s really like rock climbing than hiking.”

So now what used to be a grueling 45-minute process has been cut down to under 10 minutes. 

“We used to have a model before the Polaris got here where we would use a stokes basket and a wheel to bring someone off the hillside that weighed over 100 pounds,” Nason said. “That would tax our rescuers indefinitely for days to come and then respond to a structure fire shortly after would exhaust us. With the Polaris, this is going to be pivotal in saving our workers comp, not just for the victim but for the rescuers as well.”

Firefighters say this new piece of equipment can be used on various trails: Johnson Ranch, Froom Ranch, Cerro San Luis and Cal Poly and at city events like the Women’s March. 

“This will be a great vehicle to save and change lives on a daily basis,” Nason said.

This July, fire crews say they will receive the rest of their county grant funds to outfit the Polaris with a victim rescue module, so they can easily and safely put a victim in the back. The firefighter and paramedic open spaces training will happen every year now for new fire crews.