BOONE COUNTY, Mo. - Like a cave's mix of rock, mud and water, rescue leaders in mid-Missouri rely on a mix of skills to get people stuck in a cave out.
Doug Westhoff, assistant chief of the Boone County Fire Protection District, said cave operations require skills and gear for water and climbing, as well as tools to navigate tight spaces. It also takes the help of multiple agencies, like specialized divers, spelunkers and medical professionals to pull off a successful rescue.
Westhoff said he closely watched the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach in northern Thailand from a flooded cave. The last of the soccer team, divers and doctors made it out on Tuesday, ending the 18-day rescue operation. Westhoff said he was interested in hearing about the good and the bad about how the situation was handled.
Boone County's most popular caves, the Devil's Icebox and Connor's Cave, are managed by the Missouri State Parks. Westhoff said rescuers from the fire protection district would work with park employees familiar with the caves. If diving was required, like in Thailand, the county would need to call for specialized divers from the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
"Cave diving is a very specific skill set," Westhoff said. "It's a specialty, a subset of diving that requires specific certifications, and to maintain those, that's a huge commitment of both time and money."
Thai rescuers reportedly gave the trapped adolescents anti-anxiety medication to help ease the route back to safety, which took some non-swimmers underwater and through narrow passageways.
Westhoff said providing medication would require help from doctors and paramedics on scene. That enhances the need for crews to work together effectively.
"All we're really doing is bringing a couple more people into the fold for that collaboration of how we're going to come out with the best outcome here," Westhoff said.