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Four-year-old Avery waited impatiently beside her father’s little boat dancing excitedly, eager to get aboard and out on the water. A thin film of ice could be seen along the shores of the lake. Fish darted beneath the cold surface, rising sporadically to scoop bugs into their mouths.
“First things first,” Allen told his daughter, zipping, and clipping her lifejacket securely around her tiny body.
“What’s this?” she asked, pulling on a bright orange plastic tube that hung from the zipper.
“That’s a whistle,” her father explained. “You can blow that to call for help.”
She blew into it, testing it out. The shrill sound echoed around the lake.
“Okay, that’s enough,” Allen told her after several loud bursts. “Climb aboard. And sit perfectly still while Daddy gets in.”
She followed instructions while Allen shoved the little open skiff off the shore. Powered by a gas motor, the little boat bounced and skipped across the lake surface as they headed out to a favorite fishing hole.
Avery decided she wanted to help by paddling the boat. She leaned down and picked up the paddle, focused on her goal. Allen looked up and shouted “No!” just as she pushed the paddle into the water at the bow of the boat and was suddenly catapulted into the air and directly in front of the boat.
Allen killed the engine and two seconds later, heard a loud whack as something hit the motor blades.
“My heard stopped,” he said. “I’ve never felt such terror in my life. I thought, was that my baby girl? Then I saw the bent paddle pop to the surface and a second later, Avery bobbed to the surface about 15 or 20 feet behind the boat.”
For a fraction of a second, Allen thought about diving into the water to grab his daughter but knew from his past training, that would be a huge mistake. Taking a deep breath to calm his nerves, he used a trolling motor to turn the vessel around. He could hear Avery blowing her whistle.
In less than two minutes he’d managed to navigate the boat to where his daughter bobbed on the surface of the water. He quickly scooped her out of the icy cold lake stripped off her wet clothes, wrapped her in his shirt and put her life jacket back on her.
“By the time we made it back to the car she wasn’t shivering as much and I knew she was going to be fine,” said Allen. “But that sure scared the life out of me and made me appreciate all the training I’ve had to be prepared. Had she not been wearing a life jacket that fit properly, we could have had a very different outcome.”
Emergencies and disasters happen every day. For Allen and Avery, their emergency quickly became an inconvenience rather than a disaster because they had prepared for the potential that someone in their boat might end up in the water unintentionally. But for every story like Allen and Avery’s that end happily, there are stories of people getting caught in situations they are not properly prepared for.
I remember one with two teenage boys who were snowboarding in Hatcher Pass wearing only cotton t-shirts and shorts because the day started out sunny and beautiful and they were hiking. By the time they reached the top of the slope, the weather changed and it started to rain and then snow. It should have been a swift ride down to safety on their boards but one of the boys got disoriented in the flat light and went the wrong direction.
He quickly went from hot and sweaty to hypothermic and his story ended in tragedy.
From wildfires to earthquakes to floods to winter storms, it pays to prepare so you will know what to do and have what you need when it matters most.
September is National Emergency Preparedness Month. The Local Emergency Planning Committee is once again spearheading the annual community Emergency Preparedness Expo on Saturday, September 30th from 10 am to 4 pm at the Menard Sports Center in Wasilla.
“This event got its start at the Mat-Su College,” explained Bea Adler, a member of the Local Emergency Planning Committee. “After several years, we just outgrew that space. Now with support from the City of Wasilla, AARP Alaska, the Mat-Su Health Foundation, Mat-Valley Federal Credit Union, other donors, partners, and a team of volunteers, we’ve been able to expand into the Menard Sports Center and bring our community much more.”
Adler says they are expecting more than 50 vendors, exhibitors and demonstrations this year. “We don’t want this to be just another expo where you walk around and look at stuff. We
want to present opportunities for people to be actively involved in learning how to prepare and stay safe in a variety of situations. If walking around and looking is all you’re up for, that’s fine, but this will also be your chance to get your hands on to learn by doing and really get prepared.”
The event is free to attend or exhibit. The first 100 people through the door will receive a free preparedness kit thanks to AARP Alaska.
A special feature of the Expo is a poster contest on the theme of emergency preparedness for youth from 4 to 18 years old. All entries receive a McDonalds gift certificate for a free ice cream and the top winner in each of five categories will receive a family emergency kit, a community service award, and recognition by the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly. Children can either bring to or create their poster at the expo on ‘What it means to be prepared’ or turn into Fire Station 6-5 (Palmer Wasilla Highway and Seward Meridian) during business hours before Friday, September 29th at 5 pm.
For questions about the expo, please contact Heather Ridge, MSB Department of Emergency Services, 907-841-1674 or email email@example.com
The powder is calling. As the skies clear and the spring light returns to Alaska, it’s easy to get caught in the terrain trap! Those deadly places that lure us in and trap us with their terrain features. Dips, gullies, cornices, flats under slopes… Learn the signs and make sure you avoid the danger. Learn more at AlaskaSnow.org
Every year at this time, the folks at the Alaska Avalanche Information Center start gearing up for November, Avalanche Awareness Education Month, in Alaska. This year will launch with a host of activities planned in collaboration with the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center, Alaska Mining and Diving Supply, Black Diamond and a host of other partners and collaborators.
Erik Peterson and Michael Hopper know exactly what it means to be snow starved. After two seasons with little or no snow, the two were ‘jonesing’ to get out in the backcountry and make some tracks. Hopper, the Keynote Speaker at the 2015 Alaska Snow Safety Safety Summit held in November, shared the story of the day his starvation for snow resulted in the loss of his two best friends…. Read the full story at Alaska Coast Magazine (January 2016 Issue)
While organizing gear for a fishing trek to the Russian River two men belonging to the car parked next to us came rushing up in a panic. The older man had blood spurting from his wrist and a fish hook buried deep in the flesh.
My adult son, who has little formal medical training beyond Wilderness First Aid, instantly shot into action and began taking charge of the scene.
“Mom, grab the first aid kit,” he directed. “Michelle, get my filet knife out of my pack and get my stove going. Boil some water.”
Within minutes we had the man seated on a camp chair, antibacterial wash rinsing off the wound, and a pair of plyers and filet knife prepped to pull the hook out so the barbs would not do any more damage. It didn’t take long to get the hook out, despite the serious depth and angle it was embedded, clean, disinfect and bandage the wound.
The whole thing was handled with calm and confidence because we knew what to do despite the adrenaline surging through all of us. I’ve had other experiences that were nothing like this.
One summer I rounded a corner on Fairview Loop Road and came face to face with a four-wheeler crash involving two teenage girls and a pick-up truck. A man was crouched on the ground in front of the truck. He was holding the head of one of the victims who lay motionless in front of him.
The second girl sat in the middle of the road screaming frantically while blood ran down the side of her face and pooled around her.
I had no medical training. I felt terrified. Looking around at the otherwise deserted road, I knew, I had no choice, I had to do something.
Fortunately within a minute more cars stopped and neighbors came rushing out of nearby homes to help. I called for emergency medical services and then focused on calming the screaming victim while the driver of the truck, who had apparently collided with the girls, continued to hold the head of the unconscious victim.
I acted on impulse and just did what I thought was best at the time. I wasn’t sure and I hated that. I realized I wanted and needed to know what to do.
Less than two week later I turned up Beverly Lake Road off of Pittman Road and noticed a motorcycle lying in the ditch on the right side of the road with the wheel spinning. I glanced to my left and realized there was a person lying in the ditch on that side. I pulled over and ran up to the boy lying in the ditch. I knew instantly it was bad. His femur bone was sticking out a jagged tear in his jeans just above his knee. I gagged.
I looked up and down the deserted road in horror. Tears clouded my eyes and I felt terrified and angry that I’d found myself in another situation where I didn’t have a clue what I should do beyond comfort this boy until someone else could call for real ems help.
The agonizing minutes of holding this boy in my arms trying to comfort him until someone else finally came to call for help seemed like hours. I signed up for a first aid class the next day.
That was more than 20-years-ago. In April I completed my third round of a 16-hour wilderness first aid course with the North America Outdoor Institute to renew my national Wilderness First Aid certification. I sat next to Jim Studley from Anchorage. Jim was the only person in the class that was taking this for the first time. The other 11-students had been certified previously and were refreshing skills. Jim, a pilot for UPS, proved to be a fast learner.
“Why are you taking this class?” the instructor asked as he queried each student in the room.
Jim explained he likes to fish and hike and ride snowmachines and had experienced a couple of incidents in the past where he needed to know this stuff.
“I just don’t want to be that guy again that doesn’t know what to do.” he said.
It made me think about the times I’d been ‘that guy.’
As the class progressed and we found ourselves dealing with more advanced medical emergencies, the more my confidence grew. I still have so much to learn but if I find myself in the unfortunate position to be first on the scene of a serious accident again, I will know the right steps to follow to ensure I don’t make things worse and can provide real aid.
I’ll know that the truck driver was doing exactly the right thing by holding that little girls head perfectly still. There was definitely an MOI (mechanism of injury) that could have resulted in a broken neck. He was holding her ‘C’ spine to prevent her from moving and severing her spinal column which would have meant certain death.
I would have known it was the right thing to call for ems and comfort the second victim while we waited for help to arrive. And now I would be able to do much more for this victim because I would have my first aid kit and a blanket in my car to treat her for shock and stop the flow of blood.
I hope I don’t have to use the skills I’ve learned, whether in the front country or the wilderness, but I’m grateful I have them so I can be calm and confident if the need presents itself.
It doesn’t matter how old you might be, learning medical skills can save you or someone else you know. We found in our wilderness medical classes that some of the best responders were as young as eight-years-old.
Alaska has been tinder dry this spring. Back in April, with the already warm days and the lake breaking up early, I had a premonition of what was coming. I published articles in Alaska Coast Magazine and Make A Scene in hopes of preventing at least the Man-Made fires. Nothing I can do about the hundreds that are started by lightening strikes. But to no avail. This was a tragedy that I didn’t want to see happen. Read the full articles at: Safety Matters Coast Magazine and at Make A Scene
Michael Herdina grew up in Anchorage and has spent more than 50 years skiing and exploring the mountains alone. He’s well aware of the advice that you should travel with a partner but admits, that rarely happens.
For close to 20-years I was his most frequent partner but since I fell skiing and hurt my hip four years ago, I haven’t been able to go as often. He has a few friends he skis with but most days he prefers to travel alone at his own pace. “I don’t like to wait for people,” he said. “Or maybe you could say, I just don’t play well with others,” he chuckles at his joke.
For more than a decade he’s spent time each winter exploring the terrain around Wolf Creek Ski Area in Colorado. There is a lot of backcountry skiing at this small, family resort and Herdina has grown familiar, and reluctantly admits, a little careless.
Recently he’s had a couple of close calls where he realized a partner could have been a great benefit.
One day he skied into an area that turned out to be a range of steep cliffs with a series of waterfalls. He tried to stop when he realized where he was, but he was moving too fast and caught his ski on a rock that launched him headfirst down the hill. He landed on a broken off tree stump that jabbed him painfully in the back.
“I felt that stump poking me in the back and realized, I could have been impaled and died.”
I remember one skiing adventure with him when we met up with a group of other skiers about our age and ability. Because I generally only ski with Herdina, I was thrilled with the idea of skiing with other people, especially women. I happily followed the group, but when we arrived at the lift, Herdina was nowhere to be seen.
I spent the next four hours trying to find him. When we finally reconnected he said he just likes picking his own line and took a wrong turn that separated him from the group.
Whether it happens by design or accident, being alone in the wilderness takes special considerations.
Joe Royer, a 40-year veteran helicopter ski guide based in Lamoille, Nevada, understands the reasons and challenges of traveling alone.
“Many of us who work in the mountains do not have the luxury of having a fulltime ski partner,” Royer stated in a presentation at the 2014 International Snow Science Workshop, in Banff Canada. “Simply you either go alone or you don’t go.”
But, he advised, following careful protocols and always sticking with your plan can mitigate a lot of risk.
“There are things you have to take when you’re alone,” said Royer. “Like some means of communication in case you do get in trouble and need help. But ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what you want in your pack. What you might ultimately need.”
Other advice Royer shared included: communicate your plan with someone you trust and then follow it. And don’t explore new places during high hazard times.
That made me think of my friend Herdina.
He recently called me to tell me he’d learned another valuable lesson about skiing alone and knew he needed to scale back his risk tolerance.
Wolf Creek had received over five feet of snow in a storm and Herdina was alone and happily plowing through the trees in waist deep powder when he caught a ski on a branch. It popped his ski off and sent him crashing headfirst into a tree-well. Snow filled his nose and mouth and he found himself trapped and struggling to breathe and fight off the rising panic.
“My ski was literally pointed straight at the sky and wedged against the tree. I was folded in half and hung there stuck. I kept struggling to flip myself around.” Only a few hundred feet from the lift, he thought about calling for help but figured either people wouldn’t hear him or might think he was joking around. And he admitted, he was embarrassed by his predicament. He was prepared to accept he’d gotten himself into this predicament and would figure a way to get himself out. It took more than 20 minutes of wiggling, wrestling and resting before he was able to reach his binding and pop out of his ski. Lucky for him, the incident left no scars and only another reminder that a partner could be a good asset.
I remember an incident at Alyeska Ski Resort when two young boys were boarding together during a snowstorm. The boys got separated and one fell into a tree-well similar to Herdina’s situation, only he wasn’t able to get himself out. His friend tried to find him but was unsuccessful and in the end, instead of just a lingering memory to warn of the potential danger, the story ended in tragedy.
Herdina said the joy of spending time in the mountains outweighs the risks of going alone for him. But he does admit he pays extra attention when packing his gear. “I wear a survival whistle around my neck and carry emergency gear and communication. I’m also more aware and cautious in extreme weather conditions and when exploring new terrain.”
Whether you plan to travel alone or just find yourself in that situation, it pays to go prepared. At the minimum carry some type of communication device, make sure you stay alert and aware, and tell someone who knows the general area where you will be and when you expect to return.
For the last two months I have devoted a lot of my time to developing a game app for your phone, tablet, computer that will appeal to teens (so pretty much anyone) and teach mountain safety survival skills. Avalanche! has been an amazing project and will be presented on October 3rd at the International Snow Science Workshop in Banf Canada. I’m hopeful that this game will provide part of the solution to sustaining avalanche forecast and education centers in the US and Alaska.
I am preparing a KickStarter project to launch prior to the ISSW so that after I make my presentation, people can go immediately to sign up and help support the project. If you’d like to stay informed and learn more about this exciting new venture, please sign up to follow my blog and you will be automatically notified with updates. Thanks for your interest and support! To learn more check out: Game App ManualR1
I recently had an article published in Alaska Coast Magazine on the power of Alaska’s Plants. I was horrified when I got a call from the plant specialist I had interviewed, Shelley Plumb, that one of the photos in the article had been mislabeled and the mistake could be deadly. I accidentally submitted a photo of Water Hemlock with the information for Yarrow. I have submitted a correction to Alaska Coast which they are working to make on the website now. They will also be printing a correction in the October issue of the magazine.
I feel terrible about this mistake and please ask everyone to be ABSOLUTELY positive about the identity of a plant before ever using it for anything.
Shelley shared a story about two young boys at the Alaska State Fair that had been playing with a poisonous plant that ultimately resulted in the death of one of the children. She warned that really knowing and understanding plants definitely can be a life or death matter.
Have you ever wondered about the wild plants growing in your yard? When my children were young teenagers we moved to Valdez, Alaska where our family had won a piece of land in the state lottery. We spent the summer clearing our property and preparing to build a home. During the process, we learned a lot about the dangers and benefits of Alaska’s wild plants.
I remember one hot, summer day, my son, wearing shorts and t-shirts, set out with a machete to whack down the thick vegetation that covered the ground where we planned to build. It wasn’t long before he was complaining that his skin was stinging and burning.
As we worked alongside him, we all quickly noticed the effects because touching some of the plants caused an immediate reaction. Our skin began to blister and burn.
At the time, we had no idea what was happening or what we should do. We washed our skin with soapy water, put on gloves, long-pants and long-sleeve shirts and went back to work.
The next day, after a bit of research, we discovered we had been exposed to Alaska’s nettles and cow parsnip. While the nettles have amazing medicinal properties when harvested and processed correctly, touching the plants can cause a burning sensation that will gradually diminish over a few hours. However the fluid from cut cow parsnip is like getting acid on your skin and can take months to heal.
According to Alaska plant specialist Shelley Plumb, knowing about the plants around you could save your life in an emergency.
“There is so much to learn that I recommend people take on one or two plants a year and then learn everything you can about those plants,” said Plumb. “Learn to recognize them in different stages of their life cycle, where they grow, whether they are dangerous or safe, what they can be used for, and if you do use them, understand how they affect your body.”
Plumb, a life-long Alaskan is an instructor for the North America Outdoor Institute and the owner of Knowing Our Land, a private consulting firm that specializes in coming to your home to help you identify the wild plants you have in your yard. She will also teach you the uses and benefits of how to harvest, utilize and preserve the plants for edible or medicinal uses.
“Through the years I have seen the horrible effects prescription medicines have had on people and my children,” explained Plumb. “Wanting the best for my children and family helped me become very connected to the land. I feel very strongly about using what’s growing outside my door. And I’ve also learned that showing respect and being grateful for the gifts plants offer is the only way to truly receive the full medicinal affects.”
On top of her years of study with numerous plant specialists and the Native Health Consortium, Plumb gained even more personal experience of the powerful benefits after she was impaled with a dirty fish hook in 2010. She created a poultice from Devil’s Club, Fireweed, Twisted Stalk and Spruce sap that stopped a serious infection.
“Let’s just say Alaska is truly blessed in so many ways!” said Plumb. “We are the richest state there is and I’m not talking about gold. Everything a person would need to survive is here in the land. Food, water and medicine…It’s all about ‘knowing our land’ and showing the respect that it deserves so you may receive the gift it has to offer in full force.”
Carol Biggs, a nature counselor, educator, author and photographer shares Plumbs enthusiasm for the plants.
‘I am an avid nature consultant, connecting with nature for everything – food, water, oxygen, healing, sunlight, starlight, rain, wind, earth…and exploring wild edible and medicinal plants from an integrated perspective,’ she writes in her book Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants. ‘Restoring our link with nature reduces stress, enhances self-esteem, and heals us spiritually.’
Acclaimed wild plant experts and authors Verna Pratt, (Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers) and Janice Schofield (Alaska’s Wild Plants,) offer lots of great advice and plant photos in their books.
And both, like most plant specialists, remind you, ‘NEVER eat any plant you are not 100% certain about because many of Alaska’s wild plants can be deadly.’
Take Bane Berries, a small red berry similar to and often found growing next to high bush cranberries. It only takes about three berries to kill a small child.
Michelle Winsor, an herbalist and sustainable living specialist, said there are other important factors to remember whenever you harvest. “Not only do you want to know absolutely which plant you are harvesting but pay attention to where. You would never want to harvest near a roadway where the plants may have been exposed to toxins from road chemicals. And obviously, if you see animal scat (especially dogs) that’s not going to be a good place either.”
Another message all the plant specialists I spoke with or read their work emphasized was that sustaining the precious gift of plants is up to us. Winsor calls it the rule of three. “Never take more than one-third of a plant, never take more than one-third of the plants in an area, and don’t return to an area for at least three weeks.”
“It’s up to all of us to protect and nurture this treasure we have been gifted with,” warns Winsor, “or we could too easily destroy it.”
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, one of the biggest threats comes from invasive species.
‘In recent years, well established and expanding populations of highly invasive plants have been documented in Alaska,’ the USDA warns in their field book, Invasive Plants of Alaska. ‘These species pose a serious threat to Alaska’s agriculture, tourism, fishers and subsistence resources.’ Please do your part to ensure these invasive species do not spread to the wild lands of Alaska.’
Driving to Valdez recently I got to see the horrible effect myself. Instead of the beautiful patches of beneficial Fireweed and yarrow, the Glenn Highway is riddled with an invasive weed I learned today is ‘White Sweet Clover.’ It starts out like a delicate frilly plant but grows to over 5′ high and chokes the life out of EVERYTHING else.
To find out more or sign up for a plant class, visit AlaskaInvasives.org
You can reach Shelley Plumb through the North America Outdoor Institute at www.naoiak.org. If you’d like to reach Shelley Plumb to learn more about her ‘Knowing Our Land’ services, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more safety tips and stories check out the rest of my site here at urocksafety.com