Rappelers can decend from the helicopter at great speed from varying heights up to 250 feet above the ground. It takes a skilled pilot, and a lot of training for the crew to obtain this skill and remain proficient in its use. Many agencies within land management have excercised this practice. It is utilized primarily by firefighters that are looking to gain access to fires that are in very remote locations, typically wilderness.
Rappel requires that a pilot pull into a hover over a predetermined location. Upon inspection of the location, a spotter will drop ropes out of either side of the helicopter. Once the ropes have reached the ground and following a series of checks, the spotter will tell the rappelers to go to the skids. Once each rappeler has taken his/her position on the skids and all looks good to the spotter... the word is given to rappel. Both rappelers will then negotiate their way off of the skids and into a free slide rappel. Rappeling has an inherent risk associated with it... there are a lot of checks and training that takes place to ensure that no accidents occur, however despite every effort there is the occasional injury associated with rappeling. Until recently those injuries have typically been minor in nature, however this last year the first recorded death associated with rappeling occured.
Short-haul is a practice that is primarily exercised by the National Park Service, and some state agencies. It has been utilized almost exclusively for Search and Rescue activities. The practice of Short-haul requires incredible skills by the pilot and a well trained group of individuals to perform the Short-haul. In Short-haul individual technitions are connected to the bottom of a long line and lifted from one location to be delivered to another location. It is primarily a life saving activity used for extracting injured individuals that require medical attention.
The practice of Short-haul is fairly well regulated, and requires the right skilled people with a very skilled pilot. There are no reported accidents or injuries using NPS helicopters to do Short-haul. Many years ago, there was a death during a Short-haul evolution when a military aircraft performed a similar style of extraction and inadvertantly drug a patient through the trees... killing the individual. So it is conservative to say that Short-haul is also a risky tool that we utilize.
So this is the question that has come up recently... could Short-haul be utilized as a tool to insert firefighters the same as rappel. Are the risks greater than that of rappel? Could risk be mitigated if a crew was not utilizing both tools (i.e. rappel to insert firefighters, short-haul to rescue victims)? Recently Short-haul has been approved to insert law enforcement into locations for the seizing of marijuana plantations, could the same tool then be utilized for firefighters?
We want to know what you think about this topic... on the right there is a survey that asks the question, feel free to give your opinion by answering that survey. However, I would suggest that you add a comment (whether you want to be annonymous or not) by clicking on the comment box at the bottom of this post... give us your two cents about the topic... particularly, do you think it is a viable alternative to rappel... and if so or if not, why?
waiting to publish your comments,