Managing emergency services at the Grand Canyon National Park

February 26, 2013

Brandon Torres has a huge responsibility — ensuring the safety of more than five million people who visit the Grand Canyon National Park every year.

As the branch chief of emergency services, Torres manages a team of National Park Service employees and volunteers who oversee emergency medical services, firefighting, search and rescue and preventive search and rescue for the entire park, which spans more than one million acres.

Torres, who is also a trained paramedic said, “The opportunity to help visitors when they are experiencing a medical emergency is immensely satisfying. I get to help people when they are having one of the worst days of their lives and make it better.”

Torres and his team respond to more than 1,200 incidents a year, ranging from bumps and bruises to orthopedic injuries, heat-related illnesses and major traumas.

Hiking on the Grand Canyon trails involve a downhill trip followed by a demanding uphill climb, which Torres noted can make the trek quite strenuous. As a result, he said, many of the medical emergencies that occur are due to people underestimating what it takes to hike in the desert during summer months as well as in higher elevations.


Brandon Torres of the National Park Service. (National Park Service)

Given the geographic make-up of the park and distance from a major town, search and rescue operations can be difficult. When responding to incidents, Torres said the overarching question is, “How do you get people out of the bottom of the Grand Canyon?”

To do so, Torres and his team use a variety of different tools from mules to ambulances and a helicopter, depending on the incident.

“A lot of our work is risk management,” he said. “We have to assess the situation and see how we can make the rescue while ensuring that folks don’t get hurt. We have to make hard decisions.”

Angela Boyers, who worked with Torres during his first tour at Grand Canyon in 2006, said his emergency management skills and knowledge of search and rescue operations are phenomenal.

“It was awe inspiring to be able to work with him and glean that information from him,” she said. “I think that Brandon’s ability to take a deep breath, step back and look at an emergency situation as a whole, come up with a game plan and then go after it is what has brought him to the forefront.”

Torres began his career with the National Park Service in 1998 as a back country park ranger at Olympic National Park in Washington State. He then cut his teeth in incident management working in law enforcement at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Canyon National Park and Zion National Park.

Torres said these experiences taught him how “to wear all the hats of a city fire and police department and ambulance crew,” and helped develop his search and incident management skills.

These skills have also been strengthened through his work as a member of the Park Service’s central incident management team. In this role, Torres has helped with the agency’s response to Hurricanes Isabel, Rita and Ike and with emergency services during the 2009 presidential inauguration.

Called a “natural-born leader” by colleagues, Torres is the recipient of the 2012 Harry Yount National Park Ranger Award, which according to the National Park Service, “honors rangers who have formed the cornerstone of every park organization and their records show both tangible and in-tangible benefits to the park ranger profession.”

“Brandon is the epitome of what we do as rangers,” Boyers said.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.

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