A cool head in a crisis: Judge on ski patrol
Clark County judge spends his time off the bench responding to emergencies as a member of the Mount Hood Ski Patrol
Sunday, April 8, 2012
Mondays through Fridays, Scott Collier wears a black robe and makes decisions that change people’s lives.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the Superior Court judge trades the robe for a red Nordic jacket, the gavel for a medical backpack, and the courtroom for the slopes.
It’s a role that demands Collier’s adrenaline rather than his legal mind. He volunteers on the Mount Hood Ski patrol, where it’s not uncommon for him to treat broken arms, legs and backs, or concussions. When he responds, all he has is a pack of first aid gear, bandages, a splint and avalanche rescue gear, including a shovel.
But he still makes decisions that change people’s lives.
“The radio goes, you go,” Collier said. “You have no idea what you’re going to. And what you can do could make a huge difference.”
On his most recent shift March 31, Collier had to quickly jump into action when he was called to a report of a man with a punctured abdomen. He assessed the man’s injury, put him on a backboard and carefully transported him down the mountain amid heavy snowfall.
As it’s important to have the right judicial temperament, Collier said, it’s just as important to stay calm on the slopes. While there’s always the routine duties, there have been dozens of emergency calls in Collier’s five years on the ski patrol. One of his first major calls was responding to a report of a woman who fell while skiing and had possibly broken her back. The injuries were critical, and Collier later learned the woman had become a paraplegic.
“You’re in the thick of things, trying to help people,” Collier said.
Collier, 54, started skiing in middle school and regularly hit the slopes every winter. He tried for the ski patrol at the prompting of a friend.
After making the team, he took a 17-week first aid training course like EMT training, but geared toward outdoor emergency response. The rigorous training wasn’t a problem for Collier, who took several medical classes in college and always had a love for it.
In his role as a judge for nearly four years, Collier hears civil disputes, parental custody cases and felony criminal cases. He said he enjoys being outdoors. The ski patrol gives him a break from his sedentary job.
“A bad day on the mountain is better than a good day at the office,” Collier said, with a smile.
He’s also benefitted from his emergency training in his everyday life. “You never know when you’re going to need it,” the judge said. “I had a woman collapse in my courtroom once.” He knew how to assess the situation.
This winter, on a ski trip in Utah, Collier came across a wreck in which a car had gone off the road and trapped a woman inside. She had a concussion. Collier took her vitals and administered first aid as they waited 50 minutes for paramedics to arrive.
He also worked to keep the woman from going into shock, which was difficult, as she didn’t speak English. Fortunately, another bystander translated for them.
“You just try to keep her calm. It’s a lot … you being calm,” he said.
While rescuing injured skiers could hardly be considered downtime, Collier said the crisp winter air and fast pace of patrolling helps him clear his head after a busy week in the courtroom.
“There are times when it’s stressful,” he said. “But in a way, it’s a stress reliever.”
The judge takes his patrols in stride, his colleagues said.
“Scott’s one of the guys I’d classify as a ‘Steady Eddie,’” said Lisa Hargrave, spokeswoman and a hill captain with the ski patrol. “He’s reliable. And it’s not all about him.”
Hargrave said having a judge as a patroller is unusual, but the team does have a lot of members from the legal and law enforcement community.
“We actually have a wide array of people,” she said. “We have lawyers, teachers, firemen, auto repair guys and electricians.”
In fact, a Clark County senior deputy prosecutor, Alan Harvey, just made the ski patrol and is undergoing the training and certification process now at Collier’s encouragement.
The judge likes the camaraderie of the ski patrol.
“I like the community aspect of it, doing a service,” Collier said.