If disaster strikes at ice caves, rescuers want to be ready

  • By Jessi Loerch Herald Writer
  • Friday, April 24, 2015 2:51pm
  • LifeExplore NW

The Big Four Ice Caves are beautiful yet dangerous. The area is prone to avalanches and the caves are unstable, capable of dropping lethal chunks of ice at any time. And they’re remote, with no cell coverage and limited radio coverage

Yet the caves are also impressive, easy to access and extremely popular.

For all of these reasons, the site is ideal for training exercises for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s department, Forest Service, fire departments, Snohomish County volunteer search and rescue, Airlift Northwest, SnoCom911, and the Snohomish County Emergency Radio System.

The agencies held another training session recently, the fifth year at the ice caves. A major goal is to improve communication and make sure everyone is on the same frequency, literally.

Managing communication is tricky in such a remote area. There are multiple radio frequencies, some of which don’t work at the ice caves. There are channels for those in rescue vehicles, those with hand-held radios and those in aircraft.

All of the teams involved in the search and rescue process need to know which radio frequency to use, and when to use it. It’s all complex, and agencies need to practice frequently, said Bill Quistorf, chief pilot for the Snohomish County Sheriff.

Both the Oso landslide and the bridge collapse on I-5 helped highlight the importance of a clear communications plan and the value of training.

Quistorf was the exercise controller for the recent training at the ice caves. He said that repeating training like this each year has a lot of value.

“Even though we’ve done this before, we have new people on board, we have new deputies and we have new firefighters,” he said. “The new people haven’t practiced it. … We have to make sure everybody understands it before there’s a big incident.”

In the scenario, the ice caves had partially collapsed and two people had been hurt. Anissa Smith, a Forest Service field ranger who frequently works at Big Four, received the alert of the incident and was the first responder on the scene.

Smith has spent a lot of time working at the Ice Caves. She’s very aware of the real danger of a catastrophic accident. She’s seen many injuries, major and minor.

While the Forest Service has repeatedly cautioned about the dangers of the ice caves, many people still get too close or even go inside the caves.

This year, after such a dry, warm winter, Smith says the caves look particularly unstable. “This is the first time I’ve seen them look so dilapidated,” she said. “It’s really scary looking.”

Smith has participated in the training for several years, but this was her first time serving as a first responder.

“Being in the rotor wash of a helicopter was intense,” she said.

While she’d felt the rotor wash before, it was a different experience to feel it while trying to care for a patient and keep all the gear secure.

Part of the goal of this training, Quistorf said, was to practice dealing with an incident with multiple patients. For the first time, Airlift Northwest participated. The helicopter crew and medics practiced transferring a patient from the sheriff’s helicopter to the Airlift Northwest helicopter.

In the event of a massive incident, the sheriff’s helicopter has the gear to lower rescuers to the ground and lift patients back up. Airlift Northwest doesn’t have that gear, but could ferry patients to hospitals while the sheriff’s helicopter returned to evacuate more patients.

Quistorf said it was useful to practice the transfer and coordinating between multiple helicopters. Finding spots for the helicopters to land would be a logistical challenge at the ice caves, he said. Practicing it and scouting out the location helped him and the other rescuers plan what could work in the future.

The trainings are “really to find out where our weaknesses are if there is a major response. … If we don’t keep doing it, we’re not proficient at it.”

Talk to us

More in Life

Dark gray wheels and black exterior accents provide extra visual appeal for the 2024 Subaru Impreza’s RS trim. (Subaru)
2024 Subaru Impreza loses a little, gains a lot

The brand’s compact car is fully redesigned. A couple of things are gone, but many more have arrived.

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay walks into the Prohibition Grille along Hewitt Avenue in Everett Wednesday Dec. 5, 2012 while reportedly filming an episode of Kitchen Nightmares at the Everett restaurant. (Mark Mulligan / The Herald)
Even more films and TV shows filmed in Snohomish County

Readers point out projects previously missed in this series, from reality television to low-budget indie films.

Daniella Beccaria / for The Herald

15-month-old Kantu attempts to climb a pumpkin at Stocker Farms in Snohomish on Sunday, September 20th, 2015. Stocker Farms offers a U-pick patch, farm animals and a corn maze.
Best pumpkin patch in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied, here are the results.

The city of Mukilteo is having a naming contest for its new $75,000 RC Mowers R-52, a remote-operated robotic mower. (Submitted photo)
Mukilteo muncher: Name the $75,000 robot mower

The city is having a naming contest for its new sod-slaying, hedge-hogging, forest-clumping, Mr-mow-it-all.

Local musician Alex Johnston, whose newest album "Daylight Fooldream" pairs with short film he made with help from his partner Mikaela Henderson, sits with his morning coffee on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, at Narrative Coffee in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Folktronica musician shoots 37-minute visual album on iPhone in Everett

Alex Johnston, 31, describes his music as ”if Coldplay and Bon Iver had a love child.”

Death of parent with child. Piece of paper with parents and children is torn in half.
Helping children cope with the hard realities of divorce

I’s important to set aside one’s feelings and find a way to make this challenging transition as comfortable for children as you can.

In Belgium, each type of beer has its own glass – whether wide, tall, or fluted – to show off its distinct qualities.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Bruges brews lift a weary traveler’s spirits

The Belgian city is a mecca for beer lovers from around the world.

Children’s author Barbara Herkert to lead Story Time at Edmonds Bookshop, Friday September 29th, 9:30-10:00 am!
Author to read her new kids book at Edmonds bookstore

Author Barbara Herkert will read “This Old Madrone Tree” Friday at Edmonds Bookshop.

Can he get the fare difference refunded after he was downgraded?

American Airlines downgrades Thomas Sennett and his family to economy class on their flights from Boston to Phoenix. Why isn’t it refunding the fare difference?

From left, Elora Coble, Carol Richmond, David Hayes, Karli Reinbold, Giovanna Cossalter Walters, Landon Whitbread in a scene from Edmonds Driftwood Players' production of "Murder on the Orient Express." (Dale Sutton / Magic Photography)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Edmonds Driftwood Players opens its 65th season with Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Photo caption: Back-to-school is an ideal time to pick up new habits that help your family reduce waste and learn about resource conservation.
Go green this back-to-school season

It’s an ideal time for the entire family to learn the three Rs — Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Some collectibles are found in nature; some imitate them. If it weren’t for the attached figure, this Royal Dux porcelain vase might pass for a real conch shell.
This shell-shaped vase would make a fine souvenir of summer fun

It may not be a real shell, but this art nouveau piece could still evoke fond memories of days at the beach.