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Mt. Charleston presents challenges for rescuers

To outsiders it must look like ideal duty: A fire station at the end of State Route 157 in upper Kyle Canyon: Big pines, friendly neighbors, clean air and majestic Charleston peak.

The post card is hard to beat, but in reality members of diminutive Nevada Division of Forestry Station One and the unpaid team from Clark County Volunteer Fire Station 81 encounter a remarkable mix of calls. From snow rescue to heat exhaustion, they see a little of everything.

Their relatively remote location, about 30 minutes by ambulance to the nearest hospital, makes cardiac recoveries and other advanced certain emergency medical service particularly tricky. When time is of the essence, the odds are against victims of stroke and heart attack.

But sometimes the efforts of the paid and volunteer teams come together in a beautiful way. A cardiac incident just after 7 a.m. on April 25 was one such event.

A call for emergency service rang out that morning from the Mt. Charleston Hotel approximately three miles from the station. An adult male guest with severe cardiac issues was down. Fortunately, the call went out immediately and a citizen at the scene began cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

NDF Engine 5320 rolled on the call with VFD Rescue 81 right behind. When they arrived minutes later, the victim had no pulse. Hollywood endings aside, such dire predicaments rarely end well.

Working quickly, NDF Capt. Damian Gusmerotti relieved the CPR and continued compressions with assistance from fellow firefighter Martha Law. Volunteer Kris Knerr applied the Automated External Defibrilator (AED) and shocked the patient.

Then something amazing happened. A pulse. Shallow at first, then stronger. With VFD veterans Dave Martin, Deb Martin, and Matt McGroarty maintaining the scene and calling in the Lifeflight 21 helicopter, the patient continued to return from the brink.

Within minutes, he was airlifted to Centennial Hills Hospital, where he later recovered with full faculties.

“It was fantastic,” says Gusmerotti, a 15-year veteran firefighter paramedic. “Unfortunately, generally when you’re in that position, it’s kind of a foregone conclusion.”

In other words, patients without a pulse generally stay that way.

“It went pretty smooth,” Dave Martin says, acknowledging the long odds. “Having somebody survive something like that, particularly when you’re not in town, is pretty remarkable.”

Knerr has advanced emergency medical training and recently finished his paramedic schooling.

“All the training and everything we do, all the calls we run and the day-to-day experience, it’s all for that one call, that one save,” he says. “It makes it really rewarding to help that one person.”

No matter where they are on the mountain. NDF supervisor Jorge Gonzalez knows the mountain presents challenges from altitude, remote location, fire, flood, and, of course, snow.

The save provides a reminder that rapid response begins with citizens learning CPR basics and taking seriously the signs of distress, Gonzalez says. A rapid response begins with a quick phone call — especially when the victims are at high altitude 30 miles from the nearest medical center.

The save was something special for the emergency first responders on the mountain.

“I think that’s what I really like about being at Mount Charleston,” Knerr says. “One season there’s snow and we deal with that. We get patients with cold-related injuries. In summer, more people are hiking and we get heat-type injuries. There’s hiking, snowboarding and skiing. It keeps you on your toes.”

Around the mountain’s emergency responders, there’s no such thing as just another day at the office.

John L. Smith is a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Email him atjsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.

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