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Rappellers descend on John Day

Over 100 firefighters from five states visit for recertification.
Rylan Boggs

Blue Mountain Eagle

Published on April 26, 2017 11:12AM

Last changed on April 26, 2017 11:41AM

A rappeller descends from a 50-foot tower at the John Day Airbase as part of a training exercise on Wednesday, April 19.

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A rappeller descends from a 50-foot tower at the John Day Airbase as part of a training exercise on Wednesday, April 19.

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A rappeler prepares to descend from a training platform at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

The Eagle/Rylan Boggs

A rappeler prepares to descend from a training platform at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

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A rappeler descends from a helicopter as part of a training excercise on Wednesday, April 19.

The Eagle/Rylan Boggs

A rappeler descends from a helicopter as part of a training excercise on Wednesday, April 19.

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A rappeler prepares to descend from a training platform at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

The Eagle/Rylan Boggs

A rappeler prepares to descend from a training platform at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

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A Rappeler descends from a helicopter as part of a training excercise for the Forest Service on Wednesday, April 19.

The Eagle/Rylan Boggs

A Rappeler descends from a helicopter as part of a training excercise for the Forest Service on Wednesday, April 19.

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Colby Richmond watches a rappeler adjust his gear inside the hull of a retired UH1 helicopter during a simulation at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18. The simulation was part of a recertification class for fire fighting rappelers.

The Eagle/Rylan Boggs

Colby Richmond watches a rappeler adjust his gear inside the hull of a retired UH1 helicopter during a simulation at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18. The simulation was part of a recertification class for fire fighting rappelers.

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Rappelers coil rope after a succesful descent from a helicopter as part of a Forest Service training excercise.

The Eagle/Rylan Boggs

Rappelers coil rope after a succesful descent from a helicopter as part of a Forest Service training excercise.

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A rappeler signals during a training excericse at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

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A rappeler signals during a training excericse at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

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The Eagle/Rylan BoggsA rappeler looks up as they descend from a training platform at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

The Eagle/Rylan BoggsA rappeler looks up as they descend from a training platform at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

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A helicopter hovers over Snowshoe Fields as part of a training excercise for the Forest Service on Wednesday, April 19.

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A helicopter hovers over Snowshoe Fields as part of a training excercise for the Forest Service on Wednesday, April 19.

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A rappeler descends off of a training platform at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

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A rappeler descends off of a training platform at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

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Kyle Johnson checks gear inside the hull of a retired UH1 helicopter during a simulation at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18. Johnson was working as the spotter which entails communicating to the pilot and crew using hand signals to ensure everyone can safely rappel.

The Eagle/Rylan Boggs

Kyle Johnson checks gear inside the hull of a retired UH1 helicopter during a simulation at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18. Johnson was working as the spotter which entails communicating to the pilot and crew using hand signals to ensure everyone can safely rappel.

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A helicopter lowers a load of supplies for rappelers as part of a training excercise for the Forest Service on Wednesday, April 19.

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A helicopter lowers a load of supplies for rappelers as part of a training excercise for the Forest Service on Wednesday, April 19.

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A helicopter hovers over Snowshoe Fields as part of a training excercise for the Forest Service on Wednesday, April 19.

The Eagle/Rylan Boggs

A helicopter hovers over Snowshoe Fields as part of a training excercise for the Forest Service on Wednesday, April 19.

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Two rappellers descend from a training platform at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

The Eagle/Rylan Boggs

Two rappellers descend from a training platform at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

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Kyle Johnson signals to rappelers inside the hull of a retired UH1 helicopter during a simulation at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

The Eagle/Rylan Boggs

Kyle Johnson signals to rappelers inside the hull of a retired UH1 helicopter during a simulation at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

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Two rappellers descend from a 50-foot training platform at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

The Eagle/Rylan Boggs

Two rappellers descend from a 50-foot training platform at the Grant County Airport on Tuesday, April 18.

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Rapellers perform a safety check before boarding a helicopter at Snowshoe ponds on Wednesday, April 19.

The Eagle/Rylan Boggs

Rapellers perform a safety check before boarding a helicopter at Snowshoe ponds on Wednesday, April 19.

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The John Day Airbase hosted over 100 veteran rappellers during a weeklong training last week.

The training ensured firefighters from five states in the northwest were familiar with rappelling procedures by running a number of drills and live rappels from helicopters.

John Day rappeller Darin Toy said it was his first year at the recertification training and that it seemed less intense than the initial training. Rappellers are expected to come with a base knowledge of fundamentals.

Toy said he was attracted to rappelling because of the independence it offers.

“Usually we’re on more remote fires. The helicopter inserts you, and you’re kind of just on your own at that point,” he said, adding it’s also “just a really cool way to get to the fire.”

Toy said the trial runs in the helicopter were just like the real thing. To stay certified, rappellers had to rappel once every two weeks.

Toy said he’s rappelled onto two fires in his career, one on the Ansel Adams Wilderness and one on the Crater Lake National Park.

Rappellers typically go into a fire with food and water for three days, as well as chainsaws and other survival and maintenance gear.

The mandatory recertification training determines whether or not rappellers will work during the coming fire season.

“With experience comes confidence, so part of this training is to instill confidence in the equipment so that when we go out and staff fires in the summer everything is fluid and practiced and precise,” Jeremy McIntosh, equipment program manager at the John Day Airbase, said.

Everyone is held to the same standard during the training.

“Part of what they’re doing is building muscle memories based on hand signals given from the spotter to the pilot,” he said.

Rappellers start on either a 50-foot tower or a decommissioned UH1 helicopter.

The tower is used to practice rappelling from a fixed position, while the helicopter hull is used to practice the use of hand signals with a spotter who communicates between the pilot and rappellers.

Once rappellers have successfully completed both portions, they must complete three helicopter descents from as high as 250 feet.

Idaho rappeller Ben Mouser described being in the helicopter as “peaceful,” and rappeller Chandler Melton said “flying around in a helicopter just feels like riding around in the back seat of a school bus.”

Melton admitted his first time rappelling was a little scary, but he grew used to it fairly quickly.

“It’s a lot of fun and a great opportunity,” Melton said. “It’s good training, so I’m glad to be here.”



































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