How Firefighters Saved a Florida Man Pinned to Mighty Oak

June 29, 2022Noelle Wiehe

Rescuers from Seminole County Fire Department’s Engine 12, Tower 12, and Rescue 12 puzzle out a way to save a Florida man trapped in a tree on June 20, 2022, in Longwood. Seminole County Fire Department photo.

When firefighters arrived at the Longwood house on June 20, they found a Florida man pinned by a large tree limb, 15 feet up the remnants of a majestic Southern live oak, bellowing.

“He was literally screaming the entire time that we were there, which makes an intense scene even more intense,” Seminole County firefighter Michael Gagliano told Coffee or Die Magazine.

It was just after 10 a.m., and Gagliano and all the other twelves — Tower 12, Rescue 12, and Engine 12 — stared up at an arborist whose foot was being crushed into the bark by a big bough. They learned that his tree trimming crew had tried to pry loose the 25-year-old worker, but the heavy weight of the limbs draped around him snapped their ropes.

Rescuers initially thought they’d perform a high-angle rescue, dangling Gagliano on a rope from an elevated height to pluck the arborist to safety. That’s how specially trained personnel extract victims stranded on skyscrapers, wind turbines, and tunnels.

But this oak got a vote.

Florida man
Florida’s Seminole County Fire Department serves the unincorporated areas of the county and the communities of Altamonte Springs, Winter Springs, Casselberry, Lake Mary, Longwood, Sanford, and Oviedo. Seminole County Fire Department photo.

Lt. Kevin Yates, a pro at rope rescues, began diagramming how the accident had occurred to plot the safest way to get the arborist out from under the limbs.

He and the other rescuers saw that someone had lopped off a very large branch rising vertically at the top of the tree. When it fell, it toppled onto a plump scaffold limb that grew perpendicular to the trunk. When crew members on the ground started sawing apart the downed branches, that large limb shifted and speared into the trapped arborist’s boot.

Then other boughs crashed together into a dangerous jigsaw puzzle of green.

Yates used the formula to measure the volume of a cylinder to gin up what he called his “rough estimates of what our largest parts of the wood would weigh,” concentrating on the 24-inch round section pinning the arborist to the trunk. Tilting the scales at about 60 pounds per cubic foot of wood, the arborist had 1,500 pounds on his foot. And if the firefighters pried it loose, where would it fly next? Would any other limbs come crashing down?

“That’s just the biggest part of the tree,” Yates said. “It’s a significant amount of weight to try and anticipate where it’s going to go.”

Florida man oak
Rescuers from Seminole County Fire Department’s Engine 12, Tower 12, and Rescue 12 puzzle out a way to save a Florida man trapped in a tree on June 20, 2022, in Longwood. Seminole County Fire Department photo.

And the trimmers were getting tired.

They’d been straining against the big branch to keep some of the crushing weight off their co-worker’s foot. They wanted to start sawing into the limb pressing against the boot and prune away the other branches, but firefighters asked them to hold off for a few minutes.

After huddling, the rescuers blueprinted how they were going to save the trapped arborist. They rotated in Seminole County firefighters to spot the exhausted cutters pushing against the heavy bough. They also propped two ladders on either side of the oak for Gagliano and his firefighter-paramedic partner, Ryan Lewallen, to scale.

When they reached the trapped arborist, Lewallen pulled out a knife to cut the man’s bootlaces, thinking that he might be able to free his foot while firefighters on the ground heaved at the limb to remove the heavy weight.

But the rescuer never needed to slash them. The tree trimmer loosened his own laces and his foot wiggled out.

Rescuers from Seminole County Fire Department ‘s Engine 12, Tower 12, and Rescue 12 saved a Florida man trapped in a tree on June 20, 2022, in Longwood, but they didn’t extricate his boot. Seminole County Fire Department photo.

Rescuers urged him to stay in the tree until they could lower him to safety, but as “soon as he was free, he just kind of jumped off and just released himself,” Gagliano said.

After the arborist hit the ground, firefighters tried to hand him off to waiting medics, but the Florida man told them, “I’m finished. I’m having a cigarette before I even get in the fucking ambulance.”

First responders transported him to AdventHealth Altamonte Springs for treatment, but Gagliano said the steel-toed boots appeared to shield him from major injuries. The arborist’s foot appeared to suffer only a little swelling.

As for the boot, Gagliano told Coffee or Die the rescuers “figured we’d just leave it. Our main concern was getting the guy extricated.”

Read Next: That Time San Francisco Firefighters Had To Rescue the Pole Dancers

Noelle Wiehe
Noelle Wiehe

Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
Curtis LeMay
Curtis LeMay: The World War II General Who Firebombed Japan

Who exactly was Gen. Curtis LeMay? And how did he become the commander who razed more than 60 Japanese cities during World War II?

eric smith marine corps commandant nominee
Highly Decorated Marine Officer Nominated To Be Next Commandant

President Joe Biden has nominated a highly decorated Marine officer who has been involved in the transformation of the force to be the next Marine Corps commandant.

USS Arizona
Profile of a Ship: USS Arizona

When the USS Arizona sank, it took 1,177 crew members with it. Today it remains beneath the water as a memorial to all those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor.

b1 bombers bosnia
US Bombers Fly Over Bosnia in Sign of Support Amid Continued Secessionist Threats

A pair of U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers flew low over Sarajevo and several other Bosnian cities...

SR-71 Blackbird
SR-71 Blackbird: The Spy Plane That Could Outrun Missiles

Lockheed Martin’s SR-71 Blackbird was a government secret for years. Now retired, a newer version plans to take its place.

medal of honor recipient remains returned
Missing 73 Years, Medal of Honor Recipient's Remains Return To Georgia

Soldiers of the 9th Infantry Regiment made a desperate retreat as North Korean troops closed in arou...

dear jack
Dear Jack: My Battalion Is Out of Control

In this installment of “Dear Jack,” Marine veteran and amateur life coach Jack Mandaville advises a lieutenant colonel on how to restore order in the lower ranks.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
  • Request a Correction
  • Write for Us
  • General Inquiries
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved