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American Medical Response's Robert Aberle recounts dramatic rescue in local forest last year

Robert Aberle, a paramedic who works in Clackamas County as 17-year veteran of American Medical Response's Reach and Treat Team, is a 2018 recipient of a Star of Life from the American Ambulance Association.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Robert Aberle, a paramedic who works in Clackamas County, trains in rapelling down tight spaces in the Mount Hood National Forest.AMR's Reach & Treat Team responds to fallen hikers, climbers and other injured enthusiasts in the wilderness areas of the Mount Hood National Forest, providing advanced medical care in remote settings.

AAA's Stars of Life program celebrates the contributions of ambulance professionals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in service to their communities or the EMS profession. This is the 19th year Stars of Life were honored; Aberle was given the award last month during a national conference at Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

AMR officials say that Aberle, a member of the Reach and Treat team since 2001, epitomizes the team's dedication to caring for patients in the wilderness.

As just one example, in August 2017, a man who was canyon jumping into a river suffered serious injuries. Due to the remote location, his friend had to hike out of the canyon and then drive where he could get cell service to call 911.

The sheriff's office activated a Search and Rescue mission and established a command post. AMR's Reach and Treat Team (Aberle and his partner) prepared their gear, responded, deployed into the field (which took hours of hiking) and located the injured man.

They were joined by personnel from Pacific Northwest Search & Rescue and Portland Mountain Rescue. Aberle, an ultra runner, was familiar with the rocky and remote location as he regularly trained there. This ultimately helped them reach the man more quickly and treat him for his injuries.

When rescuers realized it would take up to 10 hours to move the injured patient to a location where helicopter evacuation was possible, Aberle, his partner and other rescuers stayed in the canyon overnight with the patient, with Aberle monitoring his medical condition and keeping him warm.

Aberle had immobilized the man, given him fluids, and shared his ready-to-eat meals with him during the night.

"This was a more stressful Reach and Treat call," Aberle said. "There was no cell phone and no radio communications to connect us with Clackamas County SAR or the Army National Guard."

While daytime temperatures were in the 90s, it was cold in the morning, and they were all shivering. In the morning the team of rescuers moved downriver to a location where the rescue helicopter could reach them.

SAR coordinators began activation of a helicopter rescue the next morning. An Army National Guard Blackhawk showed up around 7 a.m. However, the crew realized they couldn't drop the usual stretcher into the deep canyon.

The Blackhawk returned four hours later with a new crew who used the "forest penetrator" to evacuate the patient. The chopper lowered a flight medic down on the forest penetrator (a type of seat) to join the rescuers on the ground with the victim. Then medic and patient were hoisted to the Blackhawk helicopter. The injured man subsequently was airlifted to the hospital.

"All of our teams working together is what makes wilderness rescue work — Clackamas County Sheriff's Office SAR, Portland Mountain Rescue and Pacific NW Mountain Rescue," Aberle said.

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