Sky-high safety drill

Marlo Pronovost
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Article Image Alt Text

Photo by Carol Arkell

 Snow-capped mountains are framed by the HelpFlight helicopter and a Stillwater Wind turbine two weeks ago.

Article Image Alt Text

Photo by Carol Arkell

Watching the rescue drill were (from the left) HelpFlight nurse Tim Hawkins, Columbus Fire Rescue Chief Rich Cowger, Columbus Fire Rescue Cadet Trevor Westervelt and St. Vincent Healthcare Prevention Outreach Coordinator Eric Fisher.

A rescue performed hundreds of feet

above the ground involving an internal crane made for an impressive show recently at the Stillwater Wind farm in the Rapelje area recently.

Pattern Energy owns the wind farm and invited Stillwater County emergency response crews to take part in its routine safety drill.

None of the staff onsite was told ahead of time that a safety exercise was being conducted.

The scenario was a medical emergency involving two workers conducting maintenance inside a nacelle. (The nacelle is the unit to which the blades are attached via the rotor and also houses the gearbox and the electrical generator.)

At 10:08 a.m., one of the workers in a nacelle received a drill message, telling him that his co-worker was suffering a medical emergency.

The first worker then sprung into action, moving from the nacelle, down the tower and directly to the office onsite to report the emergency.

The office staff then called the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch, and both Columbus Fire Rescue ambulance and HelpFlight were launched. All the responding emergency workers did know it was a training event, said Stillwater County Disaster and Emergency Services (DES) Coordinator Carol Arkell.

Both the ambulance and HelpFlight responded to the scene, just as they normally would in an emergency situation.

Once the worker had reported the emergency, he returned to the nacelle and began the company’s rescue protocol. That involved opening a built-in crane that extends above the nacelle while a heavy rope dropped to the ground to serve as an anchor system.

The worker experiencing the medical issue was then loaded into a basket and lowered to the ground. Because it was a drill exercise, a mannequin was loaded and lowered, said Arkell.

Observing the exercise with Arkell were Stillwater County Commissioners Mark Crago and Tyrel Hamilton, as well as several CFR members.

“It’s a great thing that they included us,” said Arkell.


The construction project to build the wind farm created approximately 80 jobs, with six people currently operating the facility on-site. A total of 31 turbines are erect and have been in commercial operation since November 2018.

NorthWestern Energy is the farm’s “power purchaser,” with the farm generating renewable energy for approximately 23,000 homes, according to Pattern Energy. Through the first 25 years of operation is expected to generate more than $18 million in tax revenue, with the county receiving impact fees payments for the first three years, according to the company. Landowners are also receiving royalty payments.