Volunteers rally to buy snow rescue set-up for North San Juan Fire | TheUnion.com

Volunteers rally to buy snow rescue set-up for North San Juan Fire

Photo for The Union by Liz Kellar

Residents of the lower elevations of Nevada County might question the need of any local fire department for a snowmobile and toboggan.

But for the North San Juan Fire Protection District — whose volunteer firefighters might have to respond to a medical aid call at 5,000 feet — a snow-rescue setup had been at the top of their wish list for a while.

That wish finally has come true, thanks to the hard work of the North San Juan Fire Auxiliary. The group, whose “only mission” is to raise funds for the department, spent nine months pulling together the bulk of the $18,000 needed to buy a Ski-Doo snowmobile, Boggan rescue sled and tow trailer, said Auxiliary president Durinda Kelley.

The department took delivery of the equipment in mid-December after the Auxiliary delivered $10,000 raised from the annual Scotch broom breakfast and quilt raffle, as well as “many, many donations.” Leftover funding from the 150th anniversary of the department contributed another $3,000.

“This engine is designed to get up in the mountains … It has a lot of power. It could probably tow the whole auxiliary.”

— Christoffer Montelius,
North San Juan firefighter

North San Juan Fire Chief Jason Flores and firefighter Christoffer Montelius, a Swede who formerly served in that country’s military, have been working out training details, as well as working out the logistics of sharing the new resource with other local fire departments so that it can be sent out on mutual aid calls.

“Chris and I are the leads in training, and we’re looking right now for firefighters with EMT certification,” Flores said. “Eight firefighters in the department will be getting training. If we had an incident right now, we would be able to send some folks out, but soon we’ll have at least eight.”

The department has had the equipment for about two months — but, as Flores noted, it has been difficult to train without any snow.

“We’re building a lesson plan, using Chris’ experience in using snowmobiles and avalanche training,” Flores said.

Montelius started riding snowmobiles “when I was way too young, 6 or 7,” he joked.

During his service in the Swedish military “way up north,” snowmobiles often were used for rescues and for troop transportation. He had high praise for the long-track snowmobile the department chose, which can handle the kind of “Sierra cement” the department might typically experience at higher elevations.

“We want to avoid getting stuck,” Montelius said. “This engine is designed to get up in the mountains … It has a lot of power. It could probably tow the whole auxiliary.”

The snowmobile can carry two, and the toboggan also holds two — a firefighter and a patient. The toboggan also will be used to carry extra medical equipment, as well as survival equipment such as MREs, water, extra blankets, probes, shovels and beacons. It will be all packaged and ready to go, along with a backboard.

The new setup will make rescues in deep snow far less complicated than in years past, when firefighters have had to borrow snowmobiles or snowcats — and have even improvised backboards into sleds to transport victims, Flores said.

“Even at the 2,000-foot level, we get a couple of inches, up to about 8 inches,” he said. “In a fire engine, we definitely have to chain up.

“They are pretty good about plowing Tyler-Foote Road to Highway 49,” Flores said, but added that many of the smaller rural roads do not get that service.

Flores painted a picture of a possible scenario with a medical aid call during a snowstorm out Cruzon Grade Road, which he said gets most of the snow they will potentially see.

“Trying to maneuver up Cruzon Grade in the snow, in gear, is difficult,” he said.

With the new equipment, however, they will be able to send the snowmobile up if the snow is too deep for easy access.

The Auxiliary members stressed that they are working hard to raise the remaining $5,000 needed to pay off the debt on the new equipment, noting that the volunteer fire department is the “largest district in the county with the smallest budget.”

“We’re already selling tickets for this year’s quilt,” Kelley said. “It’s already completed.”

Donations are also being solicited; anyone can make a donation of any size to the North San Juan Fire District by mailing a check to NSJFD, P.O. Box 299, North San Juan, CA 95960, or by dropping it off at the fire station on Tyler Foote Road.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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