Coast Guard helicopter uses hoist for night rescue of injured firefighters

It happened September 6 in Northern California

Coast Guard Hoist Rescue firefighters
Screengrab from the video below.

On the night of September 6 a Coast Guard helicopter conducted a hoist rescue of two firefighters that had been injured by a rolling rock while battling the Middle Fire in Northern California on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Press release from the Coast Guard:


The Coast Guard rescued two injured firefighters from a ridge near Canyon Creek in the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area early Friday morning.

At 9:14 p.m. Thursday the U. S. Forest Service requested the Coast Guard’s assistance with the rescue of two injured firefighters. The firefighters had been hit by falling rocks and reportedly sustained serious head, back and leg injuries while working in steep terrain on the Middle Fire.

MH-65 Dolphin helicopter Coast Guard
An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay. (Coast Guard file photo by Chief Petty Officer Brandyn Hill)

Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay launched an MH-65D Dolphin helicopter crew who flew to the area and located the injured firefighters within 10 yards of the fire line in a clearing that the fire crew on scene had cut in the forest to allow for an extraction. The helicopter crew approached the extraction zone and made a high-altitude, tree-top hoist from 240 feet, the helicopter’s maximum hoist range.

The injured firefighters were flown to Weaverville airport and transferred to emergency medical services.

“This rescue was extremely challenging due to the proximity to an active fire, the high elevation and the rugged terrain,” said Lieutenant Commander Derek Schramel, the pilot in command of the mission. “I’m very proud of how our crew worked together with our fire service and law enforcement partners in Trinity County to save these two men.”

If you’re having trouble viewing the video, you can see it on YouTube.

Kymkemp.com reports that the two firefighters worked for GFP Enterprises, a company that provides contract fire crews. According to Paul Asher, spokesman for the company, “One had a broken femur [on his] right leg. The other one had an injury not as bad to the shoulder area.”

The Middle Fire started September 5 and was listed at 223 acres on September 8, one of 26 fires on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Our Opinion:

These two firefighters were lucky that the Coast Guard helicopter was available for a hoist rescue at night. Too often that is not the case. The federal and state agencies with major wildland fire programs need to develop this capability on their own, either by contracting for it or developing it in-house. Few U.S. Forest Service helicopters can fly at night and very few if any have hoists, although some can perform short-haul operations during daylight hours. CAL FIRE has installed hoists on all of their state-owned helicopters and the new Firehawks they are purchasing will also have hoists and most likely will have have night-flying capability. Kudos to CAL FIRE for setting the example.

A firefighter injured at night in a remote area during the day or night should not have to depend on luck. They deserve to have extraction services by air available within an hour.

The article was edited September 10, 2019 to include the fact that some U.S. Forest Service helicopters can perform short-haul operations during daylight hours.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chad and Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

6 thoughts on “Coast Guard helicopter uses hoist for night rescue of injured firefighters”

  1. The Coast Guard has an unofficial motto which comes down from the days of the Life Saving Service. One terrible storm on the Outer Banks and it looked like sure death to try to launch a surfboat to go to the aid of a shipwreck… The keeper of the station shouted… “You have to go out, you don’t have to come back.”
    The Coast Guard was coming to your aid no matter the weather, no matter the danger.. The Forest Service and the Coast Guard. You make the most of the little funding you get… Thank You… Be safe..

  2. A giant Bravo Zulu to that crew! I have done hoists under goggles in a HUEY.
    It is the ultimate in concentration & communication. I have flown OCONUS with “Coasties” and they are the finest sticks I know.

  3. Kern County Fire Department and Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District have been proving NVG hoist support to the State of California for years. This IS an area that the fire service has been continuously improving upon at a rather successful pace, and it is local government that is leading the charge.

  4. Awesome article and video. Definitely great cooperation between agencies to make this happen. Without knowing any of the circumstances my question is, what are the fire fighters saving in a rugged, steep terrain at 2100 at night? Far to often we put fire fighters in positions that they have no positions being in the first place. We hear of “life first”, first priority firefighter safety, but instances like these proves it’s still not happening. We need to make better decisions so we don’t need life saving helicopters ops that puts even more lives in danger.

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