Archived Story

Collaborating, training brought good outcome

Published 9:49am Friday, December 7, 2012

For the search and rescue teams looking for 14-year-old Amber Farmer late Wednesday night and earlier Thursday morning, time was of the essence.

Temperatures had dropped below freezing and the Ironton teen had been missing since Wednesday afternoon.

Aerial and ground searches came up short Wednesday evening, the darkness causing potential safety threats to those participating in the search, halting all efforts until daylight Thursday.

What could have turned out to be a tragic story had a happy ending after Amber was found by rescue canine Shadow and his handler Don Henry of the Decatur Township Volunteer Fire Department.

But just as important as finding the young girl, transporting her to safety was a top priority for rescuers.

Amber was found along a hillside near her home at the Lawrence Street Apartments. The terrain was heavily wooded, branches and tree roots sticking out in all directions. The ground was somewhat rocky and steep, muddy and slick with wet leaves.

“Safety is the biggest part of it,” said Lt. Joe Stevens of the Ironton Fire Department. “We certainly didn’t want to make her injuries worse.”

Stevens said the IFD was called to the scene at about 10 a.m. to bring equipment to get Amber off the hillside.

Coal Grove Volunteer Fire Department Chief Gary Sherman, who had joined the search efforts the night before, communicated with Stevens as to what was needed for the rescue.

Getting everyone to Amber’s location required addition man power to clear branches and debris to make a clear path. Sherman also said people riding on ATVs helped clear the pathway.

“We had obstacles every step of the way,” Sherman said.

Once at Amber’s location, emergency medical personal secured Amber with a cervical collar and a backboard. The backboard was placed in the Stoke’s basket that Stevens brought.

Stoke’s baskets are designed to carry people out of hazardous terrains, providing rescuers with multiple means of transport, from being wheeled, carried by hand, mounted on an ATV, or lifted or lowered on high angle ropes.

For Amber, about eight rescuers carried her to safety.

“If she had been in a different location, this would have been a different story,” Sherman said. “No two rope rescues are the same.”

Stevens said he was concerned for the girl because of the cold nighttime temperatures she had endured, but was confident the crews could get her to safety.

“I knew it would be a job, but I knew we could get her out,” he said.

Thanks to continuing training, Sherman and Stevens knew how to handle the situation, but the need for new and updated rescue equipment is a reality for most fire departments in the county.

“In this instance, there wasn’t a need for the technical equipment that we don’t have,” Sherman said. “…“We’ve got a lot of equipment between us, we just don’t have enough.”

Sherman’s department, like many of the volunteer fire departments in Lawrence County, don’t have large budgets to spend on rescue equipment, but have trained and been certified in various rescue techniques.

Stevens said the departments have been talking and organizing collaborative in-house training sessions.

“Some (rescue) systems can be really technical and it takes a lot of equipment and it also takes a lot of people,” he said.

“We want to work with using our mutual aid,” Stevens added. “Neither of us can do it on our own.”


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