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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Parties in dispute over rescue effort

Gene Rollins listens to the 911 phone calls regarding the rescue efforts for his brother Larry Rollins on June 5. 
 (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Gene Rollins listens to the 911 phone calls regarding the rescue efforts for his brother Larry Rollins on June 5. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

PINEHURST, Idaho – A dispute continues over the efforts made to rescue a man who suffered a heart attack in a remote mountain meadow last month.

Ground crews were not sent to the meadow until more than two hours had passed because helicopter help was expected, said Shoshone County Sheriff Chuck Reynalds in an interview last week. The air ambulance provider has angrily denied Reynalds’ statement.

“We have some real concerns about the statements from the sheriff’s office,” said Steve Becker, spokesman for Northwest MedStar. “The first words out of the dispatcher’s mouth to Shoshone County were, ‘We do not have a helicopter available.’ We never made any representation that help was on the way. None was on the way. Even with that information, the sheriff’s office declined to send ground rescue.”

The family and relatives of the heart attack victim, 55-year-old Larry Rollins, say a rescue delayed is a rescue denied. They say the sheriff’s office should have immediately sent search and rescue crews to Bronson Meadow. The family is now speaking out in hopes of preventing a similar situation.

“They never made much of an attempt,” said the victim’s brother, Gene Rollins. “The system failed. That’s all there is to it. What if it happens again and they could save somebody? The system needs to be improved.”

Rollins, an electrician from Rose Lake, suffered a heart attack on June 5 while having a picnic in the meadow with his family. The group used all-terrain vehicles to reach the grassy site near Elsie Peak. After Rollins fell off his chair and lost consciousness, his nephew drove an ATV to a nearby ridge top and was able to make a call for help on his mobile phone.

Although ATVs can reach the site in about an hour, more than three hours passed after the 911 call before help arrived by air to Bronson Meadow. It was too late.

“We figured we would be seeing a helicopter flying over in 45 minutes,” said Rollins’ brother, Ron, who helped perform CPR for two hours. “We kept waiting for help.”

Sheriff Reynalds could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon. Last week he explained his decision to not immediately send the county’s volunteer search and rescue squad.

“Once we had a helicopter there was no reason to start the ground crew,” he said. “We were expecting a helicopter. … The only logical way to get the person out was by helicopter.”

Emergency dispatch recordings obtained by the victim’s family reveal the efforts made by the county dispatcher to organize an air rescue. The first call was made at 4:47 p.m. by Rollins’ nephew.

“Is there any way Heart Flight can get in there?” the nephew asked dispatch.

The Shoshone County dispatcher responded, “Holy smokes, they need a landing pad buddy … Is he still alive?”

“I believe so,” the nephew said. He later added, “You could probably land ten helicopters out there.”

Seven minutes later, the county called the MedStar dispatch. MedStar operates two air ambulance helicopters out of Felts Field in Spokane.

“Do you guys fly into, ah, like the woods very often?” the county dispatcher asked.

The MedStar dispatcher said backcountry landings are possible, but “I don’t have a helicopter available. It’s going to be probably an hour before I have one available.”

The county dispatcher then called the Kellogg Fire Department to check if a ground ambulance could be sent. An unidentified person from the fire department said the meadow was too far out of the response area.

At 5:10 p.m., the dispatcher called MedStar to say the meadow was too far for ground crews to reach in a timely fashion. The dispatcher provided MedStar with detailed directions to the area.

“We’ll see what we can do,” the MedStar dispatcher said.

MedStar called Shoshone County at 5:53 p.m. and said a helicopter was not going to be available. The MedStar dispatcher said Fairchild Air Force Base would be called in for air ambulance assistance.

Meanwhile, an off-road motorcyclist had come across the Rollins Family performing CPR in the meadow. The motorcyclist used a cell phone to call 911 to check on the status of a rescue flight. “Is that coming?” he asked.

The dispatcher said a military helicopter was being sent. “We do have somebody that’s working on it. … There is going to be one coming.”

The dispatcher then had numerous discussions with officials from Fairchild Air Force Base and the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. One of the military dispatchers asked at least twice, “I need to know if he’s dead or alive.”

The county dispatcher said he did not know. At 6:36 p.m., an officer from Fairchild Air Force Base called Shoshone County and said, “We’ve got a bird getting ready to launch right now.”

The county dispatcher then called a member of the county’s search and rescue crew. He discovered that many on the crew were at a training session in the opposite part of the county.

“I have to find somebody. We need them,” the dispatcher said in the recording. The entire phone log includes about 30 minutes of calls between the county dispatcher, MedStar and Fairchild Air Force Base. The log provided to the family doesn’t include communication with Sheriff Reynalds.

A helicopter arrived in the meadow shortly before 8 p.m. Rollins’ family had lit a large fire with some spare gasoline to draw attention to a landing site. Rollins was then taken to Kootenai Medical Center in Coeur d’Alene, where he was pronounced dead.

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