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Rescue drill to feature copters

Joe Napsha
| Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 4:35 p.m.

Blackhawk rescue helicopters will be circling Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity on Saturday morning as part of a drill to train swift-water rescue teams from the region.

The Helicopter and Aquatic Rescue Team swift-water rescue drill that is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. is critical for rescue teams to grow proficient in working with helicopters in emergency situations, said Dan Stevens, spokesman for the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety.

"In a real-world emergency, you don't want to be learning (about helicopter rescues) at that time," Stevens said.

It is important for rescuers to know how to work safely with helicopters, he said.

"You don't want to become one of the people who needs to be rescued," Stevens noted.

Among those teams participating in the drill at an unused section of the airport runway will be the Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department's 10-member Helicopter and Aquatic Rescue Team, known as HEART.

Working with Blackhawk helicopters "brings everything to life as far as the rescue goes," said George McFarland, captain of the Greensburg fire department's dive team and a member of its aquatic rescue team.

The members have been training for more than four years, working with the Pennsylvania National Guard on water rescue and emergency response.

Saturday's exercises will be especially beneficial because the Blackhawk helicopter must hover closer to the ground than other helicopters during rescue attempts, thus creating a more powerful rotor wash, or downward draft of air, said George McBriar, chief of the Blawnox Volunteer Fire Company and coordinator of Allegheny County's Swift Water and Flood Response Team.

The Blawnox swift-water rescue team will participate in the drill, as well as a swift-water rescue team comprised of members from several Allegheny County fire departments, including Glassport, McKeesport, Tarentum and Crescent Township, McBriar said.

While the drill cannot simulate water rescue at the landlocked airport, McFarland said, water rescue drills have been conducted at Kinzu Dam in Warren County.

The two Blackhawk helicopters to be used in the drill are stationed at the Pennsylvania Air National Guard base at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport near Johnstown, McFarland said.

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