2 High Angle Rescues In 3 Days

Ken Koller reports on two separate rescues from high voltage towers in Ventura County, CA.


Firefighters in Ventura County, CA, performed two dramatic high angle rescues within three days in early March 1996, plucking two people off high voltage towers located just miles from each other. Both rescues occurred during "C" shift and many of the same firefighters participated in both...


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Firefighters in Ventura County, CA, performed two dramatic high angle rescues within three days in early March 1996, plucking two people off high voltage towers located just miles from each other. Both rescues occurred during "C" shift and many of the same firefighters participated in both operations.

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Photo by Ken Koller
Firefighters responding to the first incident found the victim, suffering from massive burns, sitting atop a concrete electrical tower, awaiting rescue. He and two friends had been rappelling off the tower when he was hit with 20,000 volts of electricity.

The Ventura County Fire Department operates 31 fire stations, each with two truck companies and three rescue engines. (A rescue engine, or "RE," is a pumper that carries much of the same equipment as a truck company, such as extrication equipment and smoke blowers.) Rescue Engine 54 is the only RE in the county equipped with a 75-foot telescoping TeleSqurt/ladder.

On the afternoon of Monday, March 11, the Ventura County Fire Department was notified of an electrocution at the California Highway Patrol's Conejo Grade inspection facility along the 101 freeway in Newbury Park. Engine 35 was dispatched but upon arrival, Captain Bob Ameche, discovered that the victim was not at the truck scales but stranded on the lower crossbar of a 150-foot electrical tower atop a nearby hill overlooking the freeway.

Three teenage boys had been practicing mountaineering skills on the Southern Californian Edison (SCE) tower, climbing up to the lower beam, and then rappelling off. While making one last ascent of the tower to retrieve some equipment he had left behind, a 17-year-old boy was hit with approximately 220,000 volts of electricity that arced from a live power line near where he was standing. Ameche immediately upgraded the incident to a heavy rescue, sending Truck 30, Rescue Engine 54, a battalion chief and a Sheriff's Department rescue helicopter to the scene.

Firefighters needed to make a half-mile hike up a steep hillside through dense brush to reach the base of the tower where the victim was located.

The boy was suffering from third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body. Much of his clothing had blown off in the explosion; his shirt had landed some 200 feet away, sparking a small fire in the brush that was quickly snuffed by his friends. His watch and sunglasses sat near the base of the tower, both melted from the intense heat; the hands of the watch were frozen at 1:34 P.M., the time of the accident. Coins that had been in his pocket were now fused into the concrete of the tower.

As additional equipment and personnel arrived on scene, a decision was made to wait until SCE crews arrived to secure the power to the lines nearest the victim before a rescue attempt was to be made. The boy sat motionless on the beam, his legs draped over the side, his eyes slowly opening and closing as he drifted in and out of consciousness. His friends below called out encouragements to him while MedTrans paramedics used telephoto lenses borrowed from news photographers to assess the condition of the young victim.

Once SCE crews arrived on scene, Truck 30 Captain Scott Hill and Engineer Dave Pumphrey began their climb up the metal rungs along one of the tower's legs. A 30-mph wind buffeted the hillside as the two made their way up the concrete structure, stopping about every 10 feet to tie in their safety line. When Hall and Pumphrey reached the beam where the victim was located, they slowly inched their way out on the four-foot-wide crossmember to where the youth had sat motionless for nearly an hour.

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Photo by Ken Koller
Firefighters from Ventura County Truck 30 prepare to make the 150-foot climb to the victim.


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Photo by Ken Koller
Truck 30 Captain Scott Hall (left) and Engineer Dave Pumphrey reach the victim and prepare him for the descent to the ground.

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