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Instead of relying solely on hiking to reach rescues in the wild, Hellsgate Fire Department will purchase a new all-terrain vehicle with a grant from the Ak-Chin Indian Community and the Gila County supervisors.

The Hellsgate Fire Department will improve its ability to rescue hikers with the help of the Ak-Chin Indian Community and Gila County.

The entities will partner to administer a grant for HFD to purchase a new all-terrain vehicle.

John Wisner, HFD chief, looks forward to getting his team some help to improve service.

“Hellsgate Fire Department, like all of the local fire departments, has seen an uptick in medical/rescue responses in the surrounding forests,” said Wisner. “Often the injured or sick person is located in remote, hard to reach areas which require that our EMTs hike in to the patient while carrying heavy medical equipment, etc.”

The lack of an all-terrain vehicle puts the HFD responders in difficult positions, he said.

The first arises when those present at the rescue site notice HFD personnel struggling with all the gear. They offer rides on ATVs, but HFD personnel have to decline.

“While this is a tempting proposal, it comes with certain risks and unknowns for our responders when they accept the offer of a ride. First, our responders do not have the proper helmets to ride on ATVs. Next we do not know the skill level of the driver giving the ride and if the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This leaves our responders with two bad choices, take a long exhausting hike or take a chance with a stranger and no helmet,” said Wisner.

HFD firefighters could wait for Tonto Rim Search and Rescue volunteers to bring the injured to them, but “it is very hard for first responders to accept when the report is for example a teenager with serious injuries,” said Wisner.

Second, some friends and family members become hostile when they feel first responders aren’t doing enough.

“It can be a nightmare and dangerous situation for our crew who has to make that decision,” said Wisner.

After listening to requests for an off-road vehicle, Wisner applied for grant money from the Indian Gaming Community.

“What I have promised my crews is that I will seek grants for items we need, but cannot afford at this time,” said Wisner. “I have been seeking out grant opportunities anywhere and from anyone to fulfill my promise to my crews. So, I have written to every Indian community which has a casino to find out if and how HFD could apply for gaming revenue sharing grants as required in AZ Prop 202.”

The HFD received a grant from the gaming community in 2018 and applied for more grants from other tribes this year.

“I am communicating with several tribal representatives for other grants,” said Wisner. “Currently, HFD applied for grants to replace our three aging heart monitors, our two sets of powered extrication gear (Jaws of Life), and a breathing air compressor ... I have met with the Tonto Apache Tribal Council and plan to request funding in the fall to replace our oldest large diameter fire hose.”

With the Ak-Chin grant in hand, Wisner looks forward to improving response times to wilderness emergencies and “ensuring our first responders can safely reach individuals in the surrounding forests without being exhausted when they arrive at the patient.”

Wisner also plans on using the UTV at special events “when a smaller maneuverable vehicle would be useful in crowds or traffic.”

The new UTV could bring state funds into HFD’s coffers. The new UTV can not only aid local, but state fire departments, “due to our statewide mutual aid compact,” said Wisner.

“In this last case (state use), the district would be compensated for the use of the equipment,” he said.

Contact the reporter at

contact the reporter at: mnelson@payson.com

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