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Ski injuries keep Pennsylvania sirens wailing

January 17, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - On cold weekends, ambulance wails pierce the rural quiet of Blairs Valley Road as rescue crews make their way to Whitetail Ski Resort to pick up injured skiers.

Because of the frequency of the trips to the ski area, dispatchers and ambulance drivers have come to call the runs "Whitetail Express."

"One day we went eight times," said Dusty Stoner, a paid paramedic and chief of the Mercersburg Montgomery Peters Warren Volunteer Ambulance Squad, the unit that makes most of the runs during the ski season.

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"We had four runs on Tuesday. Some days we don't get any, other days we get five or six."

Stoner said about 100 of the more than 800 calls the ambulance squad makes a year are to Whitetail.

"And they're only open for three or four months" of the year, Stoner said.

"This weekend will be a killer,'' he said. "It's as four-day weekend for some people with the Martin Luther King holiday. We'll be busy."

The calls have not required the ambulance company to take on more volunteers or paid personnel, Stoner said.

Some Montgomery Township residents, however, have complained about the number of calls to Whitetail because they fear an ambulance might be at the ski resort when it is needed for an emergency elsewhere, Stoner said.

Injuries are assessed before an ambulance is called, a member of the resort's ski patrol said.

Ski patrol members take injured skiers from the slopes to the first-aid station, where paramedics and nurses treat injuries and decide whether an ambulance is needed, said Mark Clem, of the ski patrol.

When an ambulance is needed at Whitetail, the call goes through the Franklin County Emergency 911 Center in Chambersburg, Pa., to Mercersburg.

It takes about 10 minutes for an ambulance to make the seven-mile trip from the firehouse in Mercersburg to Whitetail, Clem said. Patients in need of hospital care are taken to Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown, a 20-minute drive.

On rare occasions, state police helicopters from Maryland or Pennsylvania fly in to pick up injured skiers.

"That's only happened two or three times in the six years we've been open," Clem said. "It's usually for a big-time accident."

One death has been reported as the result of a skiing accident, Clem said.

The average injured skier pays about $250 for an ambulance trip from Whitetail to a hospital, Stoner said. The ambulance company takes in about $3,000 to $4,000 a year as a result of calls to Whitetail, he said.

Whitetail does not contribute to the ambulance company, but in the past the ski resort has helped with fund-raisers for the fire company, Stoner said.

On a day when all 17 slopes are open and crowded, up to 25 accidents can occur, Clem said. Only about three to five of those accidents will require an ambulance, he said.

"It's a numbers game. The more people on the slopes the more accidents," he said.

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