Former Glacier Park ranger now flying rescue missions

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Flathead County Director of Emergency Medical Services Dick Sine in his office on Thursday, January 25, in Kalispell.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

By day, 66-year-old EMS Manager Dick Sine occupies an office at the Flathead County Office of Emergency Services, juggling papers and making calls to ensure each ambulance and paramedic in the county operates efficiently and legally.

A radio call and a quick change of clothes, however, transforms the paper pusher into a man of action.

Sine doubles as a volunteer for Two Bear Air, a search and rescue service that works in conjunction with ground and air ambulances, utilizing a helicopter and crew to locate and retrieve injured victims from the backwoods of Montana and surrounding territories.

Though the organization works closely with ALERT, an emergency air medical service of Kalispell Regional Healthcare, Two Bear Air provides additional search and rescue services and can operate in conditions that inhibit ALERT.

Two Bear Air stepped on the scene in January 2012, and has since flown nearly 600 missions total.

The training for the crew does not come cheap, so when the organization contacted Sine, he said he was shocked.

“It was quite flattering to me because realistically … to take an old guy and offer him that [$25,000] training, knowing that you have a limited use compared to someone younger, I was just very flattered and honored that they would let me do that,” Sine said.

Despite his age, Sine’s qualifications made him a perfect addition to the Two Bear crew, with years of law enforcement, park ranger, medical and helicopter experience under his belt.

Sine began his professional career as a police officer in Ohio, working his way up to police chief before retiring.

Rather than slowing down, Sine set his sights on becoming a park ranger.

His application led him to Glacier National Park, where he said his first few assignments gave him a wake up call.

“We got these medical calls, and I just felt like a fish out of water,” Sine said. “I thought I better get myself some medical training.”

At 50 years old, Sine went back to college, obtaining his paramedic degree from Flathead Valley Community College during the rangers’ off-season.

He took on summers newly equipped as a park ranger and utilized his medical training working for ALERT during the winter months, soon working his way up to chief medic.

His time with ALERT drew to a close when his close friend, Chuck Curry, was elected sheriff of Flathead County.

Curry asked Sine to consider re-entering the law enforcement field as a commander for the county’s detective bureau. Sine accepted.

Not long into his time at the bureau, Sine began to miss the excitement and fulfillment he’d found with ALERT.

When Two Bear Air contacted him in May of 2015, he accepted and set out for training, traveling to Arizona to learn the ins and outs of the equipment and the procedures involved in air search and rescue.

According to Sine, the sheriff’s department takes initial reports of a missing person and gathers information about where the person was last seen, where they were going, what vehicle they were driving and so on.

Once a ground crew can determine the likely general location of the victim, they start searching.

However, when factors like terrain, distance, weather or visibility inhibit the ground search, Two Bear Air steps in.

Using a thermal camera, the helicopter crew can scan an area, searching for a human heat signature.

If the person is alive, Sine said the crew can usually locate them, though the time a search takes can range from a matter of minutes to several days.

Once the crew locates the victim, they lower a rescuer on a cable if they cannot land. Wrapped in a secure hammock-like harness, the victim is then lifted to safety and taken to an aiding medical transport.

Sine estimated that in his time with Two Bear, he has participated in at least 100 rescues, though some stand out more than others.

While out on another call, Sine and his crew received a report of a lone injured hiker trapped in the mountains of Idaho.

The 25-year-old woman was trapped on the mountain when the weather changed unexpectedly and suffered a 60-foot fall while attempting to hike out, resulting in multiple broken bones and deep lacerations.

After around 20 failed calls to 911, the woman had found a single bar of service and called one last time. Dispatch found her GPS coordinates and dispatched Two Bear.

The crew quickly located the hiker and lowered Sine to her rescue.

Despite the severity of her injuries, the woman made a full recovery and is now a doctoral candidate at University of California, Berkeley.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to find somebody that’s lost and to get them out. Because a lot of those people, they honestly think they’re going to die right where they’re at,” Sine said. “To be able to intercede and help those people is very rewarding, to know that you are kind of the last ounce of hope that they may have had.”

Sine retired from the detective’s bureau and later accepted the position he now holds as EMS manager.

Though he currently plans to retire as EMS manager when a replacement can be found and trained, Sine said he plans to continue volunteering with Two Bear Air until his age catches up to him.

“One of the things that’s interesting about getting old is that your mind isn’t old. Your mind thinks you can do things. It’s your body that starts to give out on you,” Sine said. “So as long as I can still do it, I want to do it. I don’t want to stop until I can’t anymore.”

“I know that day is coming. I’m not naïve. Until that time, I want to keep pushing that way,” he added.

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