On Oct. 17, Akron, Ohio, firefighters pulled off a smooth rope rescue of a man who had crashed his truck into a ravine.
The initial 9-1-1 call went to the Akron Fire Dispatch Center. At 2217 HRS, the department dispatched Medic 12. When Medic 12 arrived on scene five minutes later, they reported a vehicle in a ravine behind an apartment building in a residential area. Then at 2224 HRS, the department dispatched Engine 9, Ladder 9, Battalion Commander 9 and TROT 7 (Tactical Rescue Operations with rope rescue, building collapse and trench gear.). Also, Medic 7 (a unit of the TROT team) was clearing from a medical call, so they responded with Chief 1 (shift commander).
The rescue took place at the most northwestern area of Akron, near the southern tip of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, in a residential neighborhood consisting of single-family homes and apartments. At the rear of the structures, the terrain quickly fell away into a steeply wooded area. One of the ravines leads into the Cuyahoga Valley.
Medic 12 quickly made voice contact with the male driver inside the truck, which was resting on its roof. The driver was alert and oriented, but appeared to be injured.
While trying to access the patient, rescuers found a path on the other side of the apartments that led all the way down the ravine, so a group of firefighters worked their way down to the truck. After assessing the patient, they realized that he would need to be backboarded, C-collared and placed in a basket litter. They would then have to conduct a steep-slope rope evacuation to haul the patient out of the ravine.
Rescuers began trying to figure out what would be the easiest and safest way to remove the victim from the ravine. The side of the ravine that the driver crashed in had a 70-degree slope with a drop of about 60 to 80 feet from the top. There were no natural anchor points in that area, so any rope rescue system would need to be anchored to vehicles.
When one of the lieutenants, a rope technician, reached the vehicle, he reported that extrication from the opposite side of the ravine would be better, as its slope wasn’t as steep, though there was about an 8' vertical section in the middle of the slope.
Crews were directed to a parallel road along the opposite side of the ravine where they found some good anchor points in the form of large trees in backyards. To clear a path for ropes, firefighters took down a section of wood fence behind a house. They also used this area as a control point for operations.
Firefighters then placed multiple anchor straps around the large oak trees. To these they rigged a 3:1 MA (“Z-rig”) haul system constructed of pulleys and Prusiks, and piggy-backed the system onto the main haul line. They also attached a belay line using tandem Prusiks.
Once firefighters got down the side of the hill with safety equipment, harnesses and a litter, they easily extricated the patient, secured him in a plastic litter with a metal frame, and provided him with helmet and eye protection. They attached the main and belay lines to the metal head end of the basket, with rope tails going to both the patient and the rescuers. In addition, each litter tender was attached to the litter frame with a pick-off strap that allowed movement back and forth from the basket.
At the signal, a team at the top began hauling the litter and tenders up the slope. The patient reached the top without incident and was carried in the litter to an ambulance waiting on the street.
At 0052 HRS, the Akron Fire Department transported the patient to Akron General Medical Center, where he was admitted in stable condition. Doctors found that he had a lower leg injury along with minor injuries, including lacerations.
Sources: Akron Fire Department Capt. Mark Oziomek and Lt. Greg Conley provided information for this report. Some additional details were taken from a report on the incident on News Channel 5.
Lessons Learned/Lessons Reinforced:
Captain Oziomek noted that having to operate in the dark was an additional challenge during this rescue. But otherwise, there were no unexpected challenges, in part because crews had all the equipment they needed and training was up to date. He also noted that incident organization was tight. There was no slack time and no firefighters walking around not knowing what to do. The safety officer was also a rope technician so he thoroughly understood the operation and where potential hazards might arise. Further, he had an assistant to help cover all safety-related concerns.