By Lois Henry
Apparently, someone at the county is feeling a bit "exposed" these days following my article last week on the tragic death of logger Bill Bennett.
I came across this agenda item for Tuesday's meeting:
Listen to KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday when Californian staffers discuss this issue and others. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN. Lois Henry hosts every Wednesday. To listen to archived shows, visit www.bakersfield.com/CalifornianRadio
"Request for Closed Session regarding significant exposure to litigation against the County arising from the following facts and circumstances that are known to potential plaintiffs -- September 23, 2011 emergency services response and rescue in Tehachapi Mountains."
No one has filed or even threatened a lawsuit. But based on my research of the incident, I'd feel exposed, too, if I were the county.
Bennett was cutting trees that September morning in rugged terrain south of Tehachapi when a portion of a tree fell on him, leaving him badly injured.
About an hour after the accident, co-workers found him and called 911.
It took the sheriff's department helicopter an hour to hoist him out even though the county fire department had a helicopter ready to go that was miles closer. Word is they could have done it in less than half that time.
Fire Captain Jason Nava, who was at the scene, said it took multiple tries for the sheriff to get its rescuer and gear on the ground and that the rescuer appeared not to be proficient in CPR.
That's only half the story.
Nava didn't bring his medical gear because Hall Ambulance was also on scene and he expected the Hall paramedic to bring what was needed. Nava took only his chain saw in case Bennett was still trapped.
Meanwhile, the Hall paramedic refused to hike up the hill to Bennett saying he was too tired and the hike too difficult. He also refused a ride in a bulldozer offered by logging company employees, citing company policy.
And despite having the ability to radio county fire's dispatch from his ambulance, the paramedic chose to only tell Hall's dispatch he wasn't coming. Nava didn't learn he was on his own for 45 minutes, just as Bennett went into cardiac arrest.
Bennett died before he could reach a hospital.
His injuries were severe and there's no guarantee he would have lived had the rescue attempt gone smoothly.
But it did not go smoothly, not even close.
Bennett's brother-in-law, John Hayes, a retired county fire battalion chief, filed a complaint with Kern County Emergency Services (EMS) a few days after the accident.
EMS Director Ross Elliott only just completed his report, which, in my estimation whitewashed the entire affair.
He said despite fire and the sheriff's department having different hoist operations, he couldn't say one was better than the other and all they needed was joint training.
And while Hall's employees weren't "heroic," Elliott said, they "aren't trained in heroism" so they did nothing wrong.
According to Elliott's report, everyone performed to the best of their abilities and according to their own procedures, so no bad.
Our emergency agencies must work together, not dance to their own drummers.
Second, if the best of their abilities is subpar, someone needs to man up, acknowledge the deficiency and take care of the problem.
Determine which helicopter hoist program is better and train under that program. Mandate joint training.
And take another look at the agreement between fire and sheriff that divvies up hoist rescues based on the day of the week. If one helicopter is substantially closer, send that one. This can't be that hard to resolve.
As for Hall, where do I start?
Any lack of equipment or policies that hamper Hall employees from doing the job need to be fixed immediately. That's a minimum standard we, the taxpayers have a right to expect in exchange for the near monopoly we allow that company.
Last week I railed that if EMS Director Elliott wasn't up to the job of riding herd on this then the county supervisors need to get in the game.
I made a round of calls to the supervisors to get their thoughts.
Only Mike Maggard called me back (though Ray Watson had a staffer refer me to the county counsel. Thanks much).
Maggard agreed that the Bennett rescue needs much closer examination and a review is going to be requested, he said.
"It would be a shame for such a tragedy to have occurred and not have things change if there's a need for change," he said.
Oh, and one more bug -- having firefighters trained as paramedics would alleviate a lot of these problems.
Maybe it's easy to ignore a small group of citizens upset about a wind farm proposed for their one little neighborhood, or even two such groups.
But when those groups get together, it's a lot tougher to dismiss their concerns and send them on their way.
Sure enough, that's what's happening in the mountains east of Bakersfield where members of the Friends of Sand Canyon, Ranchers for Responsible Conservation, Friends of Piute Mountain Communities, Friends of Mojave and other groups met last week to share information and devise a strategy to rein in wind energy in the mountains surrounding Tehachapi, Twin Oaks and elsewhere.
They haven't come up with an official name yet, but I've been told their working title is the "Recall Zack Scrivner Coalition."
Ulp. Hard to ignore that message!
You can follow their progress through Facebook, where updates are posted under Tehachapi Citizens for Responsible Energy Development. You can also follow along on Twitter at tcred93581.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org