CLAYSBURG - With his no-nonsense, clipped-speech approach, some people might think Gary Deitke is best suited to be a cop, but they'd be wrong, according to Deitke.
The new manager of the Blue Knob Ski Patrol said he briefly considered a law enforcement career but quickly decided that field wasn't for him. He said he does have the "Type A'' personality that some people link to police officers, and he admits he likes the excitement that his job brings with it at times.
But the biggest selling point for Deitke isn't the sometimes adrenaline rush. It's knowing that he's able to help someone, whether it's bandaging a small wound or giving another person life-saving CPR.
Photo for the Mirror by Mary Haley
Gary Deitke responds to many rescue situations at Blue Knob.
As leader of the 11 paid staff members and hundreds of other volunteers of the Blue Knob Ski Patrol since last October, Deitke said he and his team are responsible for medical care for anyone at the Blue Knob All Seasons Resort. Deitke is also risk manager for the resort, assessing ahead of time what potentially might cause accidents in various areas of the property and trying to prevent them.
The ski patrol's responsibility is pretty obvious when the snow flies. The team is kept busy with everything from a cut finger to the more serious injuries like a broken leg. But responding to medical emergencies isn't limited to just the winter months. Patrol members are also required to handle anything that comes up on the mountain, no matter what time of year.
If someone has a heart attack at the resort's condos, even if it's in the middle of the summer and has nothing to do with winter sports like skiing or tubing, the team responds, Deitke said.
"Our job is to help protect the patrons of this resort,'' he said. "That's why we're here.''
But the majority of incidents do occur during ski season, he said, when anywhere from 400 to 1,500 people may visit the resort nightly during the week and on the weekends, depending on how much snow has fallen. Contrary to popular belief, skiing is a relatively safe sport, Dietke said. The resort will close certain slopes that may have become treacherous because of fallen trees or other safety hazards, although public perception may be that the resort has closed them for economic reasons, he said. The resort also "grooms'' the slopes not only to make them look nicer and easier to ski on, but to remove hazardous chunks of ice, he said.
As with any sport, people who want to ski properly should take lessons and only attempt those slopes that they know they are capable of handling, Deitke said. The slopes at Blue Knob are all marked as to level of skill and who should use them, he said. He also encouraged people to use proper protective gear.
"As with anything else, it's about common sense and paying attention to what you're doing,'' he said. "But as long as you stay within your abilities, it's a relatively safe sport.''
Last year, there were a total of 172 incidents at the resort that the ski patrol responded to, which is a low number compared to the thousands of people who visited the resort, he said.
When someone is injured on the mountain, there are several ways to treat the person, depending on how severely the person is injured and what kind of attention is required. The patrollers are like ambulance personnel in that they are required to have emergency medical training and can offer immediate medical assistance. They use sleds or toboggans to help bring injured skiers down the mountain.
They don't put skiers who are hurt in the ski lifts to transport back to the lodge, Deitke said. The ski lifts are the cable transport devices that skiers use to get up the slopes. Rescue personnel can call for a medical helicopter to transport the injured if the injuries require further treatment.
Deitke has earned the respect of others in the emergency management arena. Ron Springer, who is executive director of the Cambria County Department of Emergency Services, said he has worked with Deitke on emergency response training exercises at the county's airport for several years.
"He's a well-trained individual who has put his whole life into the care of helping others,'' Springer said.
Deitke, who has worked as paramedic supervisor for the East Hills Ambulance Company in Johnstown since 1990, has also served for many years as a volunteer firefighter for the Richland Township Fire Company. It's through his work with East Hills that Springer got to know him, Springer said. As someone with much experience dealing with fires, Deitke also serves on the U.S. Forest Service Wildland Fire Safety team as a communications unit leader, to help coordinate fire prevention and firefighting efforts.
"He's a complete professional,'' Springer said, "as anyone who deals with emergency rescue strives to be and perform their jobs at the highest level.''
Deitke, who lives in Johnstown with his wife, Stephanie, and has five children ranging in age from three to 21. When he's not at Blue Knob, the ambulance or the fire company, he's the Scout Leader for Boy Scout Troop 2025 in Richland Township.
Not only does Deitke patrol the slopes to help fellow skiers, but he's an enthusiast of the sport himself. He said he's loved to ski ever since he first tried it when he went on a school trip to the slopes in seventh grade.
"I've skied all the resorts in the area,'' he said.