Firefighters free arborist from pinning predicament

How do you free a tree-trimmer – pinned by a branch 40′ above the ground? Very carefully! Read all about this rescue, which a trained expert called “scary” …

Before taking action, firefighters and members of PF&R’s Specialty Rescue team evaluate the condition of the arborist, and the overall situation.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As one who used to live on Mt. Hood and routinely cut his own firewood, Brentwood-Darlington resident Brandon Smyton said the two arborists cutting down trees behind the house across the street from his home, in the 5800 block of SE Tenino Street, caught his interest, as he was on his way to the store about 11:30 a.m.

“The sound of the chainsaw stopped,” Smyton told us. “I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I gathered that their saw got pinched in the tree and it was no big deal. It sounded as if the man up in the tree was calmly talking to his partner on the ground, making a plan to get the stuck saw free.”

When he got returned from the shopping trip, Smyton said he found his street filled with Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) ladder trucks, and the PF&R Specialty Rescue van. “It was then that I realized the seriousness this of the situation.”

Technical Rescue Team members make sure the arborist is safely anchored to their fire truck’s extended ladder.

The rescue team rigs a come-along winch to lift the limb of the victim’s arm.

Large limb pins arborist
“When our firefighters arrived,” explained PF&R spokesman Lt. Damon Simmons, as we watched the rescue effort unfold, “they found that a large limb which the arborist was cutting fell, struck him in the shoulder, and pinned his harness and left arm to the tree.”

Noting that PF&R Engine 1 – a unit which typically only serves downtown Portland – was rolling up to the scene, Simmons commented, “This is our Specialty Rescue unit. These firefighters are trained for, and better equipped for, what we call a ‘high angle, technical rescue’, in which the victim is at least 30 feet in the air, and is hanging in the air unsupported.”

One of the firefighters instrumental in the rescue is Rich Chatman, a member of PF&R’s Technical Rescue Team, based at Station 1 in downtown Portland.

Crew carefully considers rescue options
Firefighter Rich Chatman, a Technical Rescue Team member, talked us through the rescue…

“We were concerned that if we did anything to move the top of the tree branch resting on his arm, it would shift the limb toward him, making the situation worse,” Chatman explained after the successful rescue. “We had to come up with a unique plan for securing the tree, securing victim, and then cutting his [safety harness] system that was holding him.”

After securing the victim with ropes, rescue team members used a small “come-along” winch between the trunk and the limb and free the arborist’s arm. “The tricky part was when we cut his restraint system, because that also was caught in the tree. I’d say it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done.”

While some rescuers secure the treed arborist, others winch up the limb.

With his arm free, the arborist gets a footing on the fire department’s extension ladder.

While the team was making the plan and taking action to free him, the victim was conscious and lucid, Chatman commented. “He was a real trouper. He knew we were working as hard and as fast as we could, to free him.”

Victim descends ladder to safety
At about 1:00 p.m., many of those watching the rescue said they were surprised to see the arborist slowly climb down a tall ladder the firefighters secured to the tree. “We were going to lower him using a rope system,” Chatman said, “but he started climbing down as soon he could. But we had him supported all the way down.”

Freed from his predicament, the arborist makes his way down a ladder, with a firefighter at his side on a parallel ladder.

This view gives one a better idea of from high the victim was rescued.

-9 Firefighters and paramedics help the arborist at the ladder’s bottom.

Although the freed, unidentified arborist could walk on his own, AMR medics quickly got him to lie down on a gurney, and transported him to OHSU Hospital for evaluation and treatment.

As crewmembers started packing their equipment, and as Station Truck 25 was retracting its 100-foot ladder, we noticed the other arborist climbing back up the tree. “He’s going to retrieve the chain saw, isn’t he?” Smyton remarked.

With the victim safely on the way to the hospital, the arborist’s partner climbs back up the tree to retrieve his chainsaw.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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