Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team trains for potential hurricane

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SUSQUEHANNA TOWNSHIP, Pa. (WHTM) – Dozens of federal, state and local first responders were in the Susquehanna River Thursday, training as if a hurricane hit and multiple people were trapped by floodwaters.

A military helicopter flew above, as rescue teams assisted down below.
“Everybody is kind of going through different processes to learn every different facet so that that way all of us can kind of work together,” said Michael Fischer, a swift water rescue technician for Harrisburg River Rescue.

Several swift water rescue teams are trained alongside the Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (PA HART) and the national guard. They’re preparing in case severe weather strikes.

“Flooding is a major natural disaster that affects the state on a regular basis, yearly basis, and really this is a capability to be able to respond effectively and really so we don’t have people lose their lives,” said Randy Padfield, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

PEMA and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission play a major role too.

“It’s not only an exercise, but it’s an evaluation of what we can actually perform in the field,” said Ryan Walt, PA HART program manager

“The training is one component. The equipment is another component, but bringing that all together to test the operational capability is really key,” Padfield said.

It takes teamwork both in the water and in the air to bring people to safety.

“We’ll bring the survivor or rescue technician, or both inside of the area. We’ll pull them back toward the ground,” said Staff Sgt. William Andrews, showing how the hoist system in the Chinook helicopter works.

The training has been put to use.

“Last year, August 13th through the 15th, the PA HART, the partnership here, we rescued 23 individuals up in Benton, Pa,” Walt said. “They had catastrophic flooding.”

The training isn’t just being used to save people in the commonwealth, but to respond to natural disasters across the country.

“One little misstep can create problems or can seriously injure somebody and we don’t want to see that happen,” Padfield said. “So we want to train in as real-life a situation as we can.”

The PA HART team does training quarterly, but this full-scale exercise only happens once a year.

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