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LAS CRUCES FIRE DEPARTMENT AND MESILLA VALLEY SEARCH AND RESCUE

Team effort to help campers, hikers in distress

Responders train for the worst

Posted

Teamwork is critical when someone is lost or injured in the Organ Mountains, Las Cruces or the desert.

The Las Cruces Fire Department’s (LCFD) Technical Rescue Team and Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue, Inc. (MVSAR) are working more closely together than ever to utilize the strengths of each group and their combined training and experience to rescue lost or injured campers, hikers and backpackers. The teams often train and deploy together to conduct rescues and extractions and respond to other emergencies.

“We realized that our paths crossed a lot,” said LCFD Battalion Chief Jeremiah Lay. “It’s a really, really good group effort.”

MVSAR members “have expertise, have been around for a long, long time and do numerous missions a year,” Lay said, so the group was added to LCFD’s resource list. He said LCFD also works with other teams that are part of the local search and rescue network, including Doña Ana Search and Rescue and Organ Mountain Technical Rescue, plus the New Mexico State Police (NMSP), Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office (DACSO) and Las Cruces Police Department (LCPD).

“I love ’em,” MVSAR President Vic Villalobos said of Las Cruces firefighters. “They’re a good group of people. Their professionalism is top notch. We just work really well together.”

LCFD’s Technical Rescue Team and MVSAR worked with DASO and NMSP in May to rescue a group of 24 hikers that had become “separated, disoriented and stranded in the Organ Mountains,” according to an LCPD news release.

Villalobos also remembers a joint rescue operation in 2019 when a hiker had fallen in the Organs and a boulder fell on him, crushing the middle part of his body. Searchers located the hiker and the friends he was with. LCFD was on scene with emergency medical technicians, who stabilized the hiker and contacted Fort Bliss for assistance. LCFD requested the U.S. Army send a Blackhawk helicopter, which arrived within an hour. The hiker was hoisted out of the canyon he had been trapped in and transported to a hospital.

“He survived because of the life-saving actions taken in the field,” Villalobos said.

Because firefighters are trained as emergency medical technicians, the incident commander for an MVSAR mission will call in LCFD if there is any indication of an injury, Villalobos said. EMTs can also administer medication, if necessary.

That LCFD has a swift-water rescue team and MVSR has a boat. It is another example of their partnership, Villalobos said.

“That makes a pretty good marriage,” said Villalobos, who has volunteered with MVSR since 1997, participating in more than 500 missions and leading the group since 2000.

The LCFD Search and Rescue Team has 21 members, with seven on each shift, Lay said. All are medical professionals with extensive training in swift-water, confined-space – elevators, trees and tunnels, for example – and rope rescues and heavy extractions. Some team members were deployed to New Orleans and Houston to help with hurricane recovery, said Lay, who has been with the LCFD Technical Rescue Team for 15 of the 16 years he has been with the fire department.

MVSAR, founded in 1995, has ground, canine, ATV, communications and drone teams. Team members have extensive experience in searches and familiarity with the Organ Mountains, where many searches and rescues have taken place over the years. Its canine team also does cadaver searches.

MVSAR members must be at least 16 years old, Villalobos said. You don’t have to have any previous experience to join.

MVSAR meets at 6:30 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at A Bite of Belgium restaurant, 741 N. Alameda Blvd.

MVSAR is a nonprofit that relies on grants and donations. To donate, visit mvsar.org.

Contact Villalobos at 575-496-4215 or vicvillalobos@me.com.

Visit www.facebook.com/Las-Cruces-Fire-Department-1674411762831375/.