38th Anniversary of the Mt. St. Helens Eruption

downloadMay 18th is the 38 year anniversary of the Mt. St. Helens eruption.  For those of us that lived and worked here, it was an amazing time.  For some, when Mt. St. Helens erupted at 8:32am, time had run out.
Did you know that in addition to Dr. Dave Johnston who worked for the USGS – Johnston Ridge is named for him – there were also two ham radio operators on the mountain and lost their lives that morning?  On a ridge two miles behind Dr. Johnston, Jerry Martin, W6TQF was also sitting watching the mountain for the Washington State Emergency Services.  Jerry was a ARES/RACES officer and the state had asked for amateur radio volunteers.  Also present on the mountain was Reid Blackburn, KA7AMF.  Jerry and Reid went into the field to help the U.S. Geological Service and the National Geographic Society set up remote cameras in order to make scientific observations.
On May 18, 1980, Sunday, 8:32am, Mt. St. Helens erupted.  Jerry was at his post 10 miles from the volcano using the tactical callsign “Coldwater 2”.  He radioed in the emergency that the volcano had erupted.  Jerry witnessed the devastation overwhelm Dave Johnston’s position and quickly radioed in the information. Jerry’s last words were “Gentlemen, the camper and car sitting to the south of me is covered.  It’s gonna get me too.  I can’t get out of here.”  There was probably more but Jerry’s radio went dead at that moment.
Reid was a few miles closer to Mt. St. Helens than Jerry.  No signal was ever received from him.  Later that afternoon a helicopter found his car burning in several feet of smoldering volcanic ash.  It was not safe to recover his body for three days.
With Jerry and Reid’s death, however, hams were not done.  Dr. Johnston’s famous last words “Vancouver, Vancouver… This is it!” were never heard in Vancouver.  Instead a ham radio operator monitoring the frequency recorded those last words.  By the end of the operations hams had passed over 3,000 messages.
We do not normally think of ham radio as something one can die from.  Jerry and Reid made the ultimate sacrifice by using ham radio to help.  Let’s remember Jerry and Reid as we also remember the others who were lost when Mt. St. Helens erupted that day 38 years ago.


ARES Communications Trailer Project Begins!

20151001_131618With new license plate in hand, we picked up our next team project today!  Jim Nodell, WB7BHN, donated this sweet little trailer and now the real work begins.  Over the next few months, we’ll sand it down and paint it, replace the floor boards, then construct a complete emergency communications trailer out of it.  The trailer will ultimately be fitted with a generator and solar power, storage batteries, a three piece 30′ antenna system, extra fuel and water, radios, cell phone charging system, and scene lighting.

It is designed to be capable of supplying emergency communications at our field day event, shelters, disaster areas, or any other place requiring its communications capabilities.  This little trailer will double the current capability we have with our comm van, “Comm II” – just without the creature comforts of being inside a heated van!

Comm II turned out so well, we were encourage to take on yet another volunteer project for the community we serve and its emergency management resources.

Joint Riverside Fire, Centralia ARES and Airlift Northwest Training Exercise

Airlift Northwest Medical Helicopter
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Emergency Coordinator Bob Willey
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Centralia Amateur Radio Emergency Services Team
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Riverside Fire’s Command Vehicle and Aid Unit

One hour before our planned joint training exercise the weather closed in with extremely heavy rain, thunder and lightening. At the last minute we deployed against all odds and the weather cleared with just enough of a window to launch the aircraft. Twenty Riverside Fire personnel and twenty Centralia ARES volunteers participated. Riverside Fire (RFA) toned out to a simulated motor vehicle crash where all four occupants were ejected from the vehicle. After locating the victims, RFA stabilized the patients and transported to the emergency landing zone in Centralia.

Centralia ARES meanwhile, began setting up the emergency helicopter landing zone.  When RFA and Airlift Northwest arrived at the landing zone, the ARES team was ready and communicating with the helicopter pilot, talked them down to the LZ. Both teams got a chance to practice patient transfer into the helicopter and the helicopter crew spent almost an hour answering questions and giving us a close up view of the aircraft.

Centralia ARES was able to test the communications capabilities of our new Comm Vehicle, designated “Comm II” which worked flawlessly. Police Chief Bob Berg and Fire Chief Mike Kytta were also present and participated in the activities. It was an enjoyable and fun exercise. Here are a couple of photos taken by our team photographer, Teresa Haymaker.