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On the afternoon of Oct. 25, 1995, at least one Cherryvale, KS, workman was very glad that local firefighters had become interested in high angle rescue techniques.
At about 2 P.M., the man was working for a contractor, cleaning and repairing a dam gate at the Elk City Reservoir, a small lake located a few miles northwest of Independence, KS, when he fell from the top of the gate. He landed first on the concrete floor, then fell into the gate chamber and into a pool of water of unknown depth. The total height of the worker's fall was between 50 and 60 feet.
Photo courtesy of the Cherryvale Fire Department
The victim of the fall is prepared for extrication to the top of the dam gate after he was examined and emergency medical treatment was begun.
Located in Montgomery County in southeastern Kansas, the city of Cherryvale is protected by a small combination paid/volunteer fire department. Fire protection is limited to Cherryvale but the department also provides EMS coverage to the city and surrounding area.
The Cherryvale Fire Department/EMS, headed by Chief Paul Newton, operates with one member on duty 24 hours a day. Eleven volunteers provide additional personnel for fires and EMS runs. Newton has four full-time firefighters, all of them continuing their medical training to the paramedic level.
Seeing the need for a high angle rescue team, Newton and Lieutenant David Boles attended a basic high angle rescue course in 1993. Growing more interested in the subject, they attended an advanced course, bringing these techniques back to the department. The rescuers continue their in-service training one day per month in the warmer months, and average every other month during cold weather.
The area of the lake is protected by the Independence Rural Fire Department and Independence EMS. Due to the nature of the emergency call, however, the Cherryvale Fire Department was immediately placed on standby by responding members of the Independence EMS. When it was verified that the man was still inaccessible, Cherryvale was asked to respond, being one of the few departments in the area trained and equipped to handle such incidents.
Cherryvale responded with three trained personnel Newton, Captain Chad Russell (a lieutenant at the time of the incident) and Firefighter/EMT-D Richard van der Lek. Constantly being updated on the patient's condition and location, Newton had a very good picture of the incident scene by the time of their arrival.
Making this possible is no accident. Just the prior weekend, the Cherryvale Fire Department held a training session with Independence EMS and an Independence Community College paramedic class. They had gone over a scenario similar to the incident they now were facing.
Fire and EMS personnel on the scene advised the responding rescue crew that the victim was in a pit filled to approximately ten to fifteen feet from the top with water. It was unknown how deep the pit was. The worker was wearing a harness with a half-inch rope tied on but this did not stop his fall. Co-workers had thrown him a life ring in an attempt to keep him afloat. They also attempted to lift him out, using his harness rope. This was abandoned after he was out of the water, due to the weight of his water-soaked clothing and fear of increased injury.
Independence EMS had responded to the initial call and, upon arrival, had secured the scene and the victim as best they could, having no way to reach him. Dennis Long was in charge of patient care and immediately called for Medflight, from Joplin, MO, to respond. This was because of the mechanism of injury, estimated extrication time, Medflight's response time of approximately 30 minutes and the fact that there is no trauma center nearby. Air evacuation of the patient was the quickest way to get the patient to definitive care.