published in the Greenfield Recorder - 3/6/2019
written by Domenic Poli
SUNDERLAND – The call about a body found on Mount Toby came to the Sunderland Police and Fire departments at 12:42 p.m. Sunday.
Two hikers found a man possibly dead in the cave trails, and first responders rushed to the scene. The body, confirmed dead upon investigation, was difficult to reach in a wedge-like area near a cliff face.
Sunderland Police Chief Erik Demetropoulos said the potentially dangerous recovery required the efforts of specially trained and equipped individuals. So a call was made to the Western Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team at 1:04 p.m.
Comprised of roughly 60 experienced firefighters, the team serves the 101 communities of the four counties of western Massachusetts and responds to scenes that demand expertise in rescues from high angles, low angles, confined spaces, trenches and tall structures. Daryl Springman, the team’s assistant director, said he could not disclose many particular details of Sunday’s recovery but explained the training and skill sets membership to this team requires.
Mary Carey, spokeswoman for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, said Tuesday that the deceased man recovered from Mount Toby was 63-year-old Greenfield resident Mark T. Klempner.
Springman said 12 team members responded Sunday. He explained members rappelled to a cave structure on the west side of Mount Toby to retrieve the body. Springman, who was stationed at the command post at the Mount Toby Acres apartments during the recovery, said there was about 80 feet between the rescuers’ anchor point and the victim.
“I think they did excellent,” he said Tuesday about this crew. “We had no issues with our equipment. We had no issues with our training. Our interaction with local departments is always a key thing.”
The State Police, South County EMS, Sunderland and Montague police departments, the Sunderland, Turners Falls, Montague Center and Greenfield fire departments, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation also responded to the scene.
Springman said his team, in its fifth year of operation, is called in whenever a local fire department lacks the training or sophisticated equipment necessary for a rescue or recovery.
“We’re very dynamic when it comes to our operation,” he said. “We can be a very small footprint at a scene or we can be a very large footprint, depending on whatever the local department needs.”
Springman, who helped launch the squad, said the team is called upon an average of 12 times a year, mostly for rope rescues. He explained most funding comes from the Western Region Homeland Security Council. Private donations are also accepted.
He said roughly 25 fire departments sponsor members. Compensation depends on the sponsoring department.
The team holds twice-a-month trainings that typically last six hours. Twice a year, an eight-hour, larger-scale training is held in a different high-risk area. The team does not venture out of state for rescues or recoveries.
Two drones – one from the Greenfield Police Department, the other from the fire department – were used Sunday to help increase rescuers’ safety. Demetropoulos said drones help determine if a rescuer has gotten injured and can pinpoint their location.
Springman said firefighters are often injured during confined-space rescues if they do not have the proper training or up-to-date equipment. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in 2018 reported that approximately 60 percent of confined-space fatalities are rescuers, “and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported that when multiple deaths occur during a rescue, the majority of the victims are ‘would-be’ rescuers.”
“That’s a number we’re trying to fight against,” Springman said.
Reach Domenic Poli at: firstname.lastname@example.org or
413-772-0261, ext. 262.