Oregon first responders still aren’t exactly sure how two men fell nearly three stories off Portland’s Northeast 16th Avenue embankment on Saturday, May 14, but the pair kept skidding through blackberry tangles and over rocks and landed in a bad place.
“It was more a tumble and a roll down the hill rather than falling off the cliff,” Portland Fire and Rescue Station 1 Capt. Chad McEvoy told Coffee or Die Magazine.
McEvoy suspects a fistfight at a homeless camp near the ridgeline triggered the fall. But all he cared about was that one of the men appeared to be seriously injured. No one knew whether it was from the brawl or plummeting down a hill.
A crew from Station 13 in the city’s Lloyd District arrived first, but then they looked at where the men ended up and figured they’d need either a low-, steep-, or high-angle rescue to get the men out. Like every firefighter in the City of Roses, Station 13’s team is undergoing training to perform those missions, but not every firefighter had received the full instruction.
A low-angle rescue usually means guiding a patient up an embankment that’s below a 35-degree slope, but bad weather, thick brush, and shifting soil will often force firefighters to use a stokes basket and a rope hauling system to fetch the injured person.
Steep-angle rescues involve slopes rising between 35 and 60 degrees. While rescuers can often descend to the patient on their own, hauling the victim up usually requires ropes.
High-angle rescues are needed for very steep slopes. Specially trained and highly fit personnel must rely on sophisticated hauling and hoisting systems to reach and extract victims stranded on skyscrapers, wind turbines, and mountains, or deep inside caves, crevasses, and mine shafts.
McEvoy’s team sized up the situation and quickly went to work. They dropped a ladder from the heights to provide solid footing and then went down the rungs to reach the uninjured man, dodging the blackberry bushes.
They fitted a rope on him and helped him scale the ladder. But the second man needed a stokes basket. So the rescuers strapped him in and began using a rope system to haul him up the incline.
“It’s a team of people that were pulling on the rope to get him out,” McEvoy said.
The whole operation took the crews about 10 minutes, and Station 1 was so quick that Station 12’s team wasn’t even needed.
“We definitely have ones that are more involved than that, but it was good practice for us to go do,” McEvoy said.