Over the edge
Firefighters are trained to do more than extinguish fires. In Rutherford County, they also scale mountains.
On Tuesday, twelve firefighters from Forest City, Lake Lure, Rutherfordton and Blowing Rock fire departments simulated how to safely rescue a stranded climber from the face of a mountain in Lake Lure as part of an intense Rope Technical training course.
The 80-hour course is offered to area firemen three or four times each year by Forest City firefighter and instructor Clint Walker.
"Rope training is one of the most complex things you can learn to do," Walker said. "Rescue skills are hinged on ropes — if you have strong rope skills you can do pretty much anything."
Firefighters are trained in high-angle rescues during the course, learning how to rescue people from trees, water towers, cellphone towers and even cliffs and mountains.
During Tuesday's simulation of rescuing a climber from the face of a mountain, firefighters strapped into their harnesses, prepared their safety ropes and constructed a high directional anchor rig, consisting of two logs fastened together with several ropes. They raised the rig into place near the edge of the mountain and used it to provide a pulley system to assist them in rescuing the climber 75 feet below.
"The rig allows us to be able to bring rescued people up and over the cliff safely," said Forest City Fire Inspector Tommy Harmon, who is participating in the rope training.
After the stranded climber was in place, two firefighters were lowered down the mountain, as was a metal rescue basket for the climber to be secured in and raised up the mountain.
One of the firefighters assisting in the rescue was Justin Crum, who was afraid of heights before beginning the Rope Technical course.
"I was able to get over my fear by having faith and trust in the guys I work with," Crum said. "One of the most difficult things with rope rescues is the rigging and taking the time to make sure it's all correct. It's a slow, methodic process because it's more than just the victim's life on the line — it's everyone who's rescuing the victim, too."
Fellow Forest City firefighter Chad Allen who is participating in the course also finds rope rescues to be challenging.
"The hardest thing is the patient's location because we're limited in our movements and what we're able to do once we can get to them," Allen said. "On level ground, we're not always limited on personnel, but down a mountain it's more difficult because of our access."
In addition to Walker, Harmon, Crum and Allen, five Forest City firefighters were part of the high-angle mountain rescue simulation including Clint Goforth, Gregg Tate, Garrett Brooks, Billy Samuel and Tommy Deviney.
J.J. Sauve from Rutherfordton Fire Department, Brandon Boone from Lake Lure Fire Department and Matt Fontaine from Blowing Rock Fire Department were also among the firefighters participating in Tuesday's training.
Although the firefighters do not frequently encounter mountain rescues, several did assist Lake Lure firefighters two years ago during the rescue of a stranded rock climber.
"Using our ropes, recently we were also able to pull a person out of an embankment after an automobile accident," Tate said.
In addition to the high-angle mountain rescue, firefighters simulated water tower rescues on Monday inside the large blue Forest City Water System water tower off of West Main Street.
They will continue their training this week with high line rope simulations and additional tree rescues.
"The benefit of knowing how to perform rope rescues is that we can assist in a variety of situations, from confined spaces like manholes and wells to high structures like water towers, trees and cellphone towers," Harmon said.