Bureau of Land Management fire crew members were conducting slash pile burning operations in Paria Canyon on October 24 when a hiking group contacted them about an ill companion. One of the hikers, a 63-year-old female, had been suffering from nausea, vomiting and numbness in her arm for the past several days. The patient was a nurse who had recently treated patients with the HINI virus and shrugged off these symptoms, thinking she probably had the flu.

The fire crew EMT evaluated the patient, while other staff searched for a potential helicopter landing area above the canyon. Several options were discussed with the group, including waiting it out for the patient to get better, attempting a long 12-mile carry out to the trailhead through several chest-deep pools of water, or trying an even more difficult ascent of the canyon to a make-do helispot the crew discovered earlier.

The patient’s condition was beginning to deteriorate and it was determined she needed further medical treatment. Waiting it out was no longer an option, and the time-consuming hike was also ruled out, so the fire crew went into action. 

They improvised a makeshift litter, cutting 10-foot long branches and slipping them through the sleeves of their nomex fire shirts to complete the bed of the stretcher. They carried the patient for several hours over a very steep and rocky route, approximately 400 feet up the canyon, to allow extrication by a medevac helicopter from Classic Lifeguards. The patient was hospitalized overnight in Page and discharged the following morning.

It turned out to be a potentially lifesaving decision. The patient wasn’t sick from the flu, but actually suffered a mild heart attack! It is probably safe to say, without the heroic rescue efforts of the fire crew, the outcome would have been much worse. 

A member of the hiking party sent this message, “Thank God you were burning that weekend. You were all so professional and didn’t flinch at the thought of what needed to be done and just doing it. Your priority became one of being there to help. Getting someone up a 700-foot slope, over rocks and through sand, was no easy task. Yet, your crew seemed to welcome the challenge. You might not realize it, but you are all angels. I shudder to think of what might have happened if you hadn’t have been on the scene.”

After the helicopter flew the patient out, the crew hiked back down to the canyon and returned to complete the burn project, as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. A remarkable example of BLM employees, literally going the extra mile in service to the public: a job well down by Mark Atwood, Shane McCormick, Rob Schill, Corey Wood, Brian Williams, Jason Bray and Rick Hilsmann.