A DAY ON PATROL WITH JESSE
In the following account, Jesse Siebler, describes his experiences as a volunteer with Lake Mountain Ski Patrol.
Jesse, 30, was the recipient of the inaugural Captain's Award in 2015. The award acknowledged Jesse's contributions as one of the younger and newer members of patrol, his enthusiasm, ability to work independently and as a member of a team, and his love of the environment and cross country skiing.
Pictured: Jesse (right) with Tim Hatten, Captain of Lake Mountain Ski Patrol.
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As I exit the ski patrol building, I'm hit with freezing temperatures and blustery winds. Conditions aside, the crisp alpine environment that is Lake Mountain is as beautiful as ever. Gaining grip in the packed snow and ice, thanks only to my trusty boot chains, I begin a patrol of the toboggan slopes. Less than 15 metres into the sweep, I spot a senior patroller assisting a man lying on the snow. As I get closer to help, the very first thing I do is put on nitrile gloves. It is clear that the man isn't in great shape, his face has a grey pallor and his eyes aren't able to focus. Whilst the senior patroller keeps the man's airway open, and vacates any remaining vomit, he explains the man was vomiting and has just regained consciousness. I get further information from his wife; she tells me he is a heavy alcohol user, has a history of heart conditions and is on medication. An ambulance has already been called by ski patrol dispatch, and a defibrillator, oxygen and the ‘red bed’ is on its way. The red bed is a portable stretcher filled with beads; after the patient is loaded a special pump is used to suck out the air. The end result is a rigid stretcher that is relatively warm and comfortable. Working with ski patrol members and mountain staff, we carry the man back to the ski patrol base. He leaves the mountain by ambulance.
This is just one example of life as a ski patroller at Lake Mountain. As a kid I distinctly remember the very brightly coloured red jackets worn by the ski patrollers, with the bold white crosses emblazoned all over. They always seemed to be the fastest on the trails, and I was impressed by their skidoos that raced through the snow. The tired kids in the group would always try and hitch a ride back to the resort at the end of the day!
Nearly two decades later, I am now one of those patrollers. Many of my weekends are spent helping the thousands of people who visit Lake Mountain during the snow season. I signed up in 2014, not really knowing what to expect. At the time I had the required minimum of Certificate 2 in First Aid, but having grown up nearby in Taggerty, I knew the mountain trails well and was a keen cross country skier. During my first season I was always buddied up with someone experienced, but before my second season I completed the Australian Ski Patrol Association (ASPA) Advanced Emergency Care qualification. It is without a doubt the best training course I have ever done. The course is a mix of theory and lots of practical sessions and scenarios and provides patrollers with, or refreshes their skills and knowledge to treat injuries and illnesses in an alpine environment. It is a challenging course, but by the end of it I felt confident in dealing with any incident that may occur. In a worst case scenario, ambulance care may be hours away, and we could be on a remote trail kilometres from anyone.
There is no such thing as a typical day on the mountain. At Lake Mountain, patrollers rotate between ski patrol's radio dispatch and medical centre, the toboggan slopes, snow shoe trails and the network of more than 30km of ski trails. One minute we could be attending to a missing child, the next a dislocated shoulder. In between there are many cuts, sprains and bruises. I enjoy remaining calm under pressure, and as a patroller we gain invaluable experience in this. I also enjoy working with the amazing volunteers in ski patrol. Between them, they offer decades of experience to learn from! There is also great diversity in work backgrounds. I am an environmental supervisor for Melbourne Water while some of the other volunteer patrollers include paramedics, doctors, teachers, firefighters and information technology. One of the perks of the job as a volunteer is that, at the end of a long day, we can stay in shared mountain accommodation. It's a great way to get to know everyone. And , if you're keen, you can go for a ski at night with a head torch and a radio, just in case!
An added advantage of being a patroller, and completing the ASPA course is that it has helped me in my personal life, and at work. Often I am working in remote areas for my job, and I carry a pack similarly stocked to the patrol ones. In fact, soon after I completed the ASPA course, I was the first responder to a car flipping off the road in Melbourne. The victim had an altered state of consciousness, many superficial cuts and a suspected broken collarbone. Following the patrol first aid methodology, I was able to treat the patient until an ambulance arrived.
For me personally, there is nothing better than being out on the trails with my first aid pack and radio. Occasionally I carry snow shoes as well, just so I can try out shortcuts between the trails. I also love helping people, whether they are hurt, lost or just need a spare map to get them back to the resort car park. And, working with such a great bunch of people makes it even better. In terms of volunteer work, it can be physically and mentally demanding, but it is also extremely rewarding. I look forward to seeing you up on the mountain. Come and say hi!