Rescuers use ropes, pulleys to save man

He was hurt, clinging to tree after fall down steep cliff near North Fork of Lewis River

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

Published:

Updated: April 4, 2012, 9:45 PM

 
photoBill Dunlap, firefighter

Bill Dunlap was at home Tuesday night when he heard that a man had fallen down a steep cliff off Northwest Pekin Ferry Court along the North Fork of the Lewis River north of Ridgefield.

Dunlap, 46, is a firefighter with Fire District 6 and a team coordinator with the highly trained interagency Technical Rescue Team.

As he drove to the scene, firefighters from Clark County Fire & Rescue were gathering their equipment. The Vancouver Fire Department brought Heavy Rescue 5, a truck laden with gear including ropes and pulleys for cliff rescues.

Dunlap learned that firefighters in a boat from CCF&R had reached the shore below the man, who was holding onto a tree.

“If he hadn’t grabbed that tree he would have fallen a lot farther,” Dunlap said Wednesday.

He estimated that the man fell about 35 feet and slid another 15 before stopping. The 53-year-old man was looking for his cat before falling, Dunlap said.

Rescuers in the boat that reached the shore below the man scrambled on foot up about 150 feet through heavy brush and, listening to his calls for help, reached him, Dunlap said.

They found that he was cold and injured with wounds not believed life-threatening. They determined there was no way to lower him safely to the shoreline.

Rescuers above set up a rope and pulley system anchored to a tree.

Down below, Dunlap and Vancouver Firefighter Jay Munson packed the man in a sked, a flexible plastic rescue basket that molds itself to a patient. The man also was provided with a head brace and a blanket.

It was an easy lift, using the mechanical advantage of the pulleys, Dunlap said. Except when rescuers reached a large area protruding from the hillside about two feet.

Steering the heavy basket around the gash took brute strength, but rescuers did it, Dunlap said.

“It was good work by the guys from Clark County Fire & Rescue, I can tell you that,” he added. “They worked their tails off.”

Eighteen minutes after midnight Tuesday, a rescuer radioed, “The patient’s on top.”

At that, AMR paramedics put the man in an ambulance and took him to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

His name and medical condition remained unknown Wednesday because agencies that provide medical services are barred from releasing that under strict federal medical privacy laws.

Sgt. Fred Neiman with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office said he didn’t know the man’s name because deputies did not write a report on the incident.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.