Boulder Traps Teenager
By Tom VinesPhotos Courtesy Bath Fire Department
On April 2, Bath, Maine, firefighters rescued a young girl from an unusual entrapment.
At 1456 HRS, fire dispatch in Bath, a town in southwest Maine, received a 911 call from a man reporting that his 14-year-old daughter was entrapped by a large rock. They were located about 1 mile from the trailhead in a forested area of Camp Christopher, which belongs to a church youth organization. The area is lightly settled with adjacent farmland and woods.
The Bath Fire Department immediately dispatched Fire Med Unit 1212, Heavy Rescue 1216 and Pick-up Truck 1208 from Station No. 1.
Coincidentally, two members of the department, a lieutenant and a firefighter/paramedic, were conducting a controlled wildfire burn in Township Park, near Camp Christopher. At 1456 HRS, these firefighters left the burn site, arriving at the trailhead 9 minutes later. There they met a family member, who guided them to where the girl was trapped.
Rather than following the trail, the lieutenant and firefighter/paramedic saved some time by taking a more direct route, which brought them to a steep ridge above the girl at 1515 HRS. Once at the site, the lieutenant took command of the scene.
A large boulder, approximately 4 ½ feet wide and 5 feet high, had pinned the girl against the face of a cliff; her aunt was holding onto the boulder to keep it from pressing any harder.
The accident happened while the family was hiking. While crossing a natural sandstone bridge 35 feet above the ground, the girl steadied herself by holding onto a boulder. Without warning, the boulder shifted, pinning her leg against the face of the cliff.
At about 1520 HRS, as the crews from Station No. 1 arrived at the staging area at the end of a road about 1 mile away from the girl’s location, the lieutenant transferred incident command to the chief. The chief remained at the staging area, and the lieutenant remained at the site where he had scene (site) command.
The lieutenant suggested to the chief that incoming responders approach via a road that ran through some farmland; this would bring personnel and equipment closer to the scene. The personnel on scene requested a portable hydraulic ram tool, a Stokes basket, EMS supplies, a rope and a rope-rescue bag.
At about 1525 HRS, a department captain arrived with ropes and climbing harnesses. After anchoring himself to a tree, the captain rappelled about 15 feet down to the trapped girl. The lieutenant then anchored a rope, rappelled down to the girl and established himself below the girl’s legs. To keep the girl from falling during the rescue operation, the captain secured the girl by tying a hasty hitch onto her and creating an improvised harness that he clipped into a separate tree.
The captain requested that a fourth line be sent down to him, which he wrapped around the boulder and anchored to a tree to stabilize the boulder. This allowed the aunt to let go of the boulder and also provided more space for the rescuers to work. Rescuers then constructed a 3:1 MA haul system using pulleys and Prusiks. They attached the haul system to the line holding the boulder and tensioned the line. They were able to get two bites on the haul system to firmly tension the line.
At 1539 HRS, a second alarm was activated to dispatch Bath Station No. 2 with Engine 1523. Mutual aid was requested from the Richfield Fire Department, which responded with Heavy Rescue 3016, and the Valley Fire Department, which responded with a pick-up and Bobcat 2816, an all-terrain vehicle.
With the second alarm, command requested a Multi-Agency Communication (MAC) channel to relieve the traffic on the dispatch channel, as well as a separate channel for the LifeFlight helicopter. Command also assigned other personnel to establish a landing zone (LZ) in a farm field and communicate directly with the helicopter.
One firefighter/paramedic established an IV line with the patient, while a second firefighter/paramedic maintained field contact with Akron Children’s Hospital. For medical control, a firefighter/paramedic established field contact with Akron Children’s Hospital. The rescuer in charge of medical control ordered IV medications for the patient’s leg pain and to calm her.
To begin the extrication, rescuers positioned the ram tool on the rock face and then on the boulder. On the first attempt, the ram could not extend the distance between the boulder and the rock face. The rescuer then repositioned the ram, but was only able to get it to push about 2 inches. Fortunately, this moved the boulder enough to free the patient.
Once the patient was free of the rock, she was placed on a backboard and her left leg was immobilized. She was then placed in a basket litter and carried several yards to the Bobcat ATV. The crew used the ATV to transport the girl about a quarter mile to the LZ, where the LifeFlight helicopter was waiting. LifeFlight then transported the patient to Akron Children’s Hospital. There, physicians examined her, found she only had minor bruising and released her.
Sources: Bath Fire Department Lt. George Seifert provided information for this report. Some additional details were taken from an account of the incident in The Westside Leader.
LESSONS LEARNED/LESSONS REINFORCED:
Lt. Seifert provided the following pros and cons related to this incident:
Even though there are many cliffs and ravines in our area, we have not yet had many rope rescues. But we do have training on ropes and knots and setting up mechanical advantages, and this helped out in the rescue. We also train with our neighboring departments, and this helped because we knew what equipment and manpower were responding.
Good teamwork and communication on the rescue action plan to free her worked well. Everyone was made aware of what was going to take place before we did it.
Because we are 10 to 15 minutes away from two Level 3 trauma centers, we do not often use LifeFlight. But we do have multi-department trainings with them to learn how to set up landing zones and communicate with them.
Radio traffic was too heavy and some communications could not get out. In the future, we will consider using three different channels: one for scene operations, one for dispatch and arriving companies and one for the helicopter.
We needed a better safety zone around the incident to keep non-secured people away. In the future, we will use scene tape to establish a “hot zone” that’s only for rescuers who are secured and a “cold zone” for equipment staging and support.
We later discovered why we were not able to get enough movement on the ram. We were using the ram that was from the truck’s main system in combination with the portable power unit. We had assumed that the two were compatible, but in later discussions with the company rep, we found that they are not.
We did consider the use of airbags, but because of the narrow space and the position of the patient, an airbag would have pressed on the girl’s leg.
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.
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