Firefighters Get Creative to Rescue Teen Trapped in Tree


A call to the 911 Center in Concord, N.H., reported that there was a male stranded in a tree.

Two Rochester firefighters donned dry suits to prepare for a rescue.

Firefighters in dry suits and PFDs positioned themselves in the bucket.


A firefighter took the controls of the Cat 944 and maneuvered it upstream.

As firefighters controlled the boat’s tether using the Figure 8, they let the current carry the boat to the teen.

Once the boat was at the tree, the firefighter in the boat placed a PFD on the teen and helped him into the boat.

The teen was shivering, having some difficulty speaking and complained of pain in one leg.

Frisbie Memorial Hospital EMS transported the teen to a hospital in Rochester, where he was treated for mild hypothermia.


By Tom Vines

Photos Courtesy Foster’s Daily Democrat

As every parent of a teenager knows, teens have an amazing ability to get into trouble, often in very creative ways. On March 31, a New Hampshire teen got into some unusual trouble that resulted in a three-department response. Fortunately, some creative thinking by rescuers got him out of this jam.

A 911 call at 1247 HRS to the 911 Center in Concord, N.H., reported that there was a male stranded in a tree above the Isinglass River on Rochester Neck Road near the Dover town line. The 911 Center relayed the call to Rochester area fire departments.

At 1248 HRS, the Rochester Fire Department dispatched Engine 1, Engine 3, Rescue 1 and an aluminum V-hull boat towed by Forestry 1, a 1997 Ford F350. Departments in Dover and Somersworth also responded as mutual aid.

The first units arrived at Rochester Neck Road to find the river flooding across and blocking the road. The Rochester Fire Department was positioned on one side, with the Dover and Somersworth fire departments on the opposite side. Near the middle of the flooding river was a teenage male—in a tree. His feet were 2 feet above the water level.

Despite barricades indicating the road was closed, the 16-year-old had tried to cross the flooded section of the road on his bicycle when the fast-moving current swept him away. Luckily, he grabbed onto a tree and was then spotted by a passerby.

Two Rochester firefighters donned dry suits and tethered themselves to the front of a fire truck. With other firefighters helping guide the line, the rescuers waded into the water and attempted to reach the teen. However, they were only able to wade out approximately 75 feet before the fast-moving current threatened to sweep them off their feet and carry them away. The firefighters reluctantly returned to shore.

Dover firefighters then attempted to reach the teen using their 100' aerial apparatus. They positioned the aerial at the edge of the river and extended the ladder, but the top end was still approximately 50 feet short of the tree.

The Rochester Fire Department had an aluminum boat, but the current was too strong to use the boat either with the outboard motor or the paddles.

The teen appeared to be anxious, shifting from foot to foot, so the rescuers encouraged him to hang on.

Just as the rescuers appeared to be running out of options, a Rochester captain came up with an unorthodox but ingenious solution. Prior to working with the fire department, the captain had worked at the nearly Waste Management facility where trash and waste is processed. The captain remembered that Waste Management owned a Caterpillar 944, a large front-end loader. The captain thought the machine had the mass and height to successfully complete the rescue.

Soon after the department contacted Waste Management, a supervisor drove the Cat 944 to the Rochester side of the flooded river.

Three firefighters in dry suits and personal floatation devices (PFDs) quickly positioned themselves in the machine’s bucket. They took with them the department’s aluminum boat tethered to the bucket and controlled it by using a large Figure 8. A fourth firefighter, also in a dry suit and PFD, took the controls of the Cat 944 and maneuvered it upstream and close to the teen in the tree. Once in position, the rescuers lowered the boat—with one firefighter inside—into the water. As firefighters controlled the boat’s tether using the Figure 8, they let the current carry the boat to the teen. Once the boat was at the tree, the firefighter in the boat placed a PFD on the teen and helped him into the boat. The firefighter operating the Cat 944 then put it in reverse and slowly backed to the shore, pulling the boat to dry land.

Once on shore, paramedics evaluated the teen. He was shivering, having some difficulty speaking and complained of pain in one leg.

At 1358 HRS, Frisbie Memorial Hospital EMS transported the teen to Frisbie Memorial Hospital in Rochester, where he was treated for mild hypothermia. All units cleared by 1428 HRS.

Sources: Rochester Fire Department Assistant Chief Richard Giguere provided information for this report. Some additional details were taken from accounts of the incident by Fosters.com and WMUR-TV.

LESSONS LEARNED/LESSONS REINFORCED:
It was prudent for the rescuers to return to shore once the current threatened to take them away. Even with dry suits and PFDs, they could have been injured or drowned in the swift current.

It also was wise for the Dover firefighters to not attempt to bring their ladder truck into the water in an effort to reach the teen. The water was 6 feet deep in some places, and there was no way to know if the roadbed was stable. Had the ladder truck become stranded or disabled, firefighters on the truck might have also needed rescue.

The Cat 944 had the heft and height to remain stable in the current and keep the rescuers out of the water. The use of the Cat is a good example of innovative thinking to deal with an incident than none of the firefighters had faced before.

Assistant Chief Giguere says that with the experience gained from this incident, the department will be purchasing new equipment, including protective suits and harnesses that perform better in swiftwater conditions.

Rescue Editor Tom Vines is the co-author of “High Angle Rescue Techniques” and “Confined Space and Structural Rope Rescue.” He operates a rope-rescue consulting group in Red Lodge, Mont.

Copyright © Elsevier Inc., a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Comment by Firewriter on May 27, 2010 at 12:18pm
Great job on this one!! Kudos to the Captain for thinking about the Caterpillar!

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