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Nevada Hams Coordinate Roadside Medical Rescue

07/30/2009

On the afternoon of July 16, ARRL Elko County (Nevada) Emergency Coordinator Greg Barker, K7CWL, was making his way home from Eureka on Nevada Highway 278 when a van sped past him. About 60 miles into his trip, he saw the van slow down and pull over to the side of the road. Barker, a physical therapist, pulled over and asked if he could assist. An elderly couple, their daughter and granddaughter were on the way to the hospital in Elko -- another 60 miles -- as the grandmother was experiencing what they believed were a series of mini-strokes.

The daughter told Barker that their van kept losing power and wouldn't run. Barker assessed the grandmother and tried to call 911 on his cell phone, but there was no coverage in that area. "I put out a call on my mobile radio, requesting immediate assistance, using the 146.850 repeater located about 55 miles away, part of a wide-area linked repeater system maintained by the Elko Amateur Radio Club," he told the ARRL. "Kent LeBart, K6IN, club president and a radio technician for the Nevada State Highway Patrol, was monitoring the system and responded immediately, asking how he could be of assistance."

Using the crossband repeat mode on his mobile radio, Barker was able to stay with the family at the van. He also used his handheld transceiver to tell LeBart that the grandmother needed to get to the emergency room. "Kent contacted central dispatch and relayed the information I gave him and asked me questions from the dispatch about the patient's situation and condition," he said. "Based on that information, they sent a medivac helicopter from Elko and an ambulance from Carlin."

Barker said that Highway 278 has no mile markers: "I relayed information to dispatch about the location using the closest ranch name and mountain pass turn-off as landmarks. With this information, volunteer fire fighters and first responders were on scene in about 20 minutes and the helicopter was on scene in about 30 minutes, followed by the ambulance at about 35 minutes."

Another local ham, Joe Sasgen, AD7OO, was able to offer useful information about approximate arrival times of the helicopter and ambulance. "Joe was monitoring central dispatch out of Elko," Barker said. "This information was reassuring to the family."

Flight paramedics assessed the grandmother and determined that a flight was justified based on her condition, Barker told the ARRL. "I was able to take her husband into the hospital in Elko to meet his wife. This is another testament to the value and utility of Amateur Radio, particularly on the lonely highways of rural Northern Nevada."



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