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Disaster, but only a drill

The hot-air balloonists slowly float above the slopes of Deer Valley Resort.

A bird’s eye view of Deer Valley, the skiers and the surrounding area is what is desired.

The balloon pilot tries to land at Deer Valley. The balloon is descending close to the Sterling Express lift, a four-passenger lift that ferries skiers between Silver Lake Village and the summit of Bald Mountain.

It is too close. The balloon strikes the lift. Twelve people are injured between the balloon and the lift. Deer Valley’s ski patrollers, more often called to ski accidents, are the first on the scene. Paramedics and police officers arrive quickly as the commotion engulfs the area outside Silver Lake Lodge.

It is Thursday morning, and Deer Valley is still two days from opening for the season. The emergency personnel are responding to a make-believe accident. But they say the scenario on Thursday morning provides a rare training session involving the ski patrol, the police and the paramedics.

They act as though the situation is real. People are barking commands. The people posing as the injured are carried on stretchers to a makeshift triage facility set up for the day close to the bottom of the Sterling lift.

Some of them wear vests designating their role, including one of the workers who is acting as the treatment unit leader. The paramedics and EMTs from the Park City Fire District quickly team with the resort’s ski patrollers as a light snow falls. They hoist the victims of the fake accident onto medical boards and carry them to the triage area and then return to help the others.

"We have a very detailed plan in place. We get organized very quickly," says Chris Erkkila, the assistant manager of Deer Valley’s ski patrol and a crucial person on Thursday, describing the response as "efficient and fast."

According to Erkkila, 30 ski patrollers respond on Thursday. It is not chaotic, he says, a goal of the ski patrol and the emergency responders. They must quickly "do the most good for the most amount of people," he says.

Drills similar to Thursday’s have been held every other year since 1999, the Fire District says. The scenarios usually are altered, but the responders benefit from each situation, learning how they and the rest of the emergency personnel must react.

"It was as real as it could be," says Bob Zanetti, an assistant chief of the fire district and the highest-ranking official from the district at Deer Valley on Thursday.

He says there are benefits to having people from different agencies and the ski patrol practice together. The fire district responds with three engines and three ambulances. If the scenario were real, he says, the fire district would have sent more people and equipment.

"The goal of this is to get a number of agencies working together," Zanetti says. "It’s all about actually doing it."

The three Park City-area mountain resorts are among the most likely places on the West Side of Summit County for an emergency to occur involving numerous injuries. The resorts each draw thousands of skiers each day during the busiest parts of the ski season. Lift malfunctions stranding skiers and avalanches outside the resort boundaries have long been of concern.

Hugh Daniels, who manages City Hall’s emergency plans and is at the scene on Thursday, is pleased with the performance. He says the responders worked quickly as they treated the mock victims.

"It looked good. It was done in real time," Daniels says. "We got the patients down in a timely manner. We got them triaged."


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