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Meet the Colorado helicopter medic trained to rescue wildland firefighters

Aaron Zinser flies with Army National Guard crew in this UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. The team's goal is to respond within 15 minutes for takeoff and arrive on scene within roughly an hour at any Colorado location. (Steve Peterson, Special to The Colorado Sun)
Steve Peterson, Special to The Colorado Sun

GYPSUM — Don’t ask Aaron Zinser about which job he’s working. The answer gets complicated very quickly. 

The 37-year-old Eagle County paramedic is a firefighter who can provide medical care on the frontlines of wildfire. He’s also certified to care for patients aboard military helicopters. He’s also a search and rescue medic who deploys with mountain rescue teams and a volunteer with Vail Mountain Rescue. And he’s certified by the National Guard as a Colorado Hoist Rescue Technician, which means he’s the medic who dangles on hoists below helicopters, treating injured hikers, skiers and climbers that search and rescue teams pluck from the mountains. 

“I have a few hats and sometimes it’s complicated knowing which one I’m wearing, especially when I’m wearing two at the same time,” says Zinser, who is temporarily based out of the High Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site — or HAATS — in Gypsum, caring for injured firefighters on a Blackhawk helicopter with a National Guard medevac team out of Aurora’s Buckley Air Force Base. 

Zinser’s rare combination of skills makes him a sort-of unicorn in today’s firefighting world. And he’s part of Colorado’s aggressive attack on wildfires burning across the state. 

Earlier this month Gov. Jared Polis authorized the Colorado National Guard to use two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and a twin-rotor CH-47 Chinook to help the State Emergency Operations Center at major fires in Colorado. 

Read more via The Colorado Sun.


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