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Repelling to the rescue

ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Members of Clackamas Fire District's Rope Rescue team take a moment out out of their busy schedules to pose for a photo. The rope rescue team often helps people who have fallen down embankments.

Repelling down a 30-foot embankment may frighten some, but it’s a typical activity for Clackamas Fire District’s rope rescue team.

The team is often called to help people who have fallen down cliffs, those who are stuck in trees or involved in industrial accidents. Team members are tasked with reaching the injured person, securing them and bringing them to safety.

“There’s a lot more than just knowing how to use a rope,” said Lt. Brian Goodrich, noting that communication and analyzing the situation are valuable aspects.

Throughout the district, there are 36 firefighters assigned to the rope rescue team. According to Lt. Tyson Wowther, 10 is the optimal number of rescuers to have on any given call.

“You want to have people managing the system, techs and safety officers,” Wowther said.

Upon reaching the scene, the team typically angles the ropes from their rig.

Two systems are used to lower the rescuers down to ensure safety. If anything happens to the primary system, the secondary system will go into effect to grab the rescuers. Once they reach the patient, they treat significant injuries before raising him or her up to safety.

Patients are put into a stokes basket, or stretcher, and lifted to safety by four rescuers.

The number of calls the team assists with varies. Sometimes they’ll have several per week, while other times they’ll go months without one.

On March 11, the team helped a driver whose car careened down an embankment off Highway 224 near Carver. The driver was the only person in the vehicle, and the rescue team used ropes to haul the crash victim up the hill after removing him from the vehicle. The driver CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: CLACKAMAS FIRE DISTRICT - The rope rescue team is often called to assist with industrial accidents, as pictured here.was transported to Oregon Health & Science University for medical treatment.

Team members said they were able to rescue the driver quickly because of ample space from which to work on Highway 224.

“The highway gave us a 90-foot area to set up,” Goodrich said. “We were able to get him up in one setting. A lot of times, there’s not enough room to set up how we’d like.”

The team members note how different one call can be from the last.

“When we get to the person, we never know exactly what we’ll see,” Wowther said. “We never know what the extent of their injuries might be. Each situation is different.”

Though rope rescue is a high-risk event for the rescuer, the rescuers agreed the hazard is worth it.

“When rope rescue is brought in, the person literally has no other options,” said Nate Hon, another member of the rope rescue team. “They’re stuck. (What stands out to me is) seeing somebody who has nowhere else to go brought to safety.”

Goodrich agreed.

“I love rope rescue,” he added. “It’s a really good fit.”