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12 remarkable saves from 2023

A carnival crisis, cliffhangers, underground escapes and fiery extractions: First responders answered the call in 2023


Each of these incidents highlights not only situational challenges and unique circumstances but also the unwavering dedication and ingenuity of the teams involved.

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The past 12 months have been marked by extraordinary incidents requiring the skilled and courageous response of first responders. This list showcases 12 of the most remarkable saves from 2023, from roller-coaster rescues to cliffside crises.

Each story highlights not only situational challenges and unique circumstances but also the unwavering dedication and ingenuity of the teams involved.

Join us in recognizing these incredible efforts that turned potential tragedies into stories of survival.

1. Wis. first responders rescued riders stuck upside for hours on roller-coaster

A mechanical failure on a carnival ride in Wisconsin left several riders stranded upside down for a number of hours.

The incident occurred on the ride “The Fireball” — a looping ride that sends riders upside down.

Officials told WAOW that passengers were stuck inside cars near the top of the loop. Describing it as being held an “inverted position by safety harnesses on cars.”

Specialized technical rescue teams and mutual aid equipment were needed to remove riders from the ride due to the height of the ride, according to a press release from the Crandon Fire Department.

Riders had to wait for a ladder truck with a 100-foot platform to come from 45 minutes away. All occupants were removed from the ride within four hours, according to the press release.

2. Calif. crews rescue driver who plunged more than 500 feet off cliff

A driver was rescued after their car plunged more than 500 feet off a cliff at Mt. Tamalpais in the San Francisco Bay Area, authorities said.

Multiple agencies responded to the crash, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook. Three U.S. Air Force airmen had witnessed the vehicle go over the cliff and tried to render aid before first responders arrived, according to the sheriff’s office.

A Marin County Fire Department captain rappelled to the car and began life-saving measures on the victim, the sheriff’s office said. The vehicle was located 530 feet down the hill and was wedged between a broken tree and the hillside.

A paramedic and extrication equipment were deployed to the car using a 200-foot line, the sheriff’s office said. The person sustained major injuries and was removed from the car and loaded onto a stretcher, according to the sheriff’s office. The person was taken via the long line to an ambulance and flown on a helicopter to a trauma center.

Authorities also saved a rescuer via helicopter who got injured trying to get to the car.

3. Mich. firefighters rescue worker trapped in sewer

A contract worker repairing a sewer system in Pontiac, Michigan, was swept downstream through the underground sewer system, before being rescued by Waterford firefighters, according to Waterford Fire Chief Matt Covey.

“The individual was able to grab hold of a step near the next manhole several hundred feet down stream. Where he was found shortly after was roughly 20 to 25 feet. below the ground,” Covey said.

Multiple units from the Waterford Regional Fire Department responded to the 911 call, along with a large group of Oakland County Sheriff Deputies and a unit from Star Ambulance, he said.

Fire crews formulated a plan to get a life-ring rope to the victim to keep him from being washed further downstream, then used ropes to extricate him from the sewer.

4. ATV driver successfully rescued after plunging over snowy Colo. cliff

La Plata, Colorado, County Search and Rescue credited an ATV driver’s helmet with saving their life when they plunged over a dark, cold and snowy cliff.

Dramatic photos show the near white out conditions on the dark as La Plata County Search and Rescue team members navigated to help the driver, who was trapped on a ledge in La Plata Canyon, rescuers said.

A team trained in technical rope rescue used a two-rope system to lower team members and supplies to secure the driver to a stretcher and haul them 200 feet back up the cliff, rescuers said.

5. San Diego FFs rescue man from SUV that plunged off cliff, dangled on rocks over sea

An SUV plunged off a La Jolla cliff, coming to rest on rocks dangling over the ocean below, California authorities reported.

Firefighters told KFMB the SUV drove off the cliff in a torrential rainstorm. The SUV landed on the rocks below with the front wheels hanging over the ocean, KSWB reported. “Sheer luck the car landed where it was,” Battalion Chief Dave Seneviratne told the station.

Firefighters secured the vehicle with ropes and worked to extricate a man inside, KFMB reported.

6. Firefighters use foam to rescue Ariz. golf course maintenance worker stung 2,000 times

A maintenance worker at an Arizona golf course was intubated after being stung roughly 2,000 times by a swarm of bees.

The unidentified victim was believed to have disturbed a hive at Pebblebrook Golf Course in Sun City West, according to ABC News in Phoenix, Ariz. He was covered by bees when first responders were called to the course Saturday.

“We thought it was grass clippings on his face but as we got closer, we realized those were actually bees,” one firefighter reportedly wrote in an incident report.

Firefighters wearing protective gear drove away the bees so they could get the victim to an emergency room.

7. San Diego FFs free worker trapped over 5 hours in trench collapse

San Diego firefighters freed a construction worker trapped for more than five hours in a trench at a home construction site along La Jolla Shores, fire authorities said.

Crews arrived to find the man stuck from the waist down in the trench near El Paseo Grande.

Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief Brian Raines told reporters, including OnScene TV, that the 62-year-old victim was awake and alert during the five-and-a-half-hour rescue, and that helped with the rescue efforts.

Raines said the rescue was complicated because a heavy piece of concrete from the home’s foundation had pinned the man to the wall. Breaking the concrete was not an option because rescuers were not sure if or how it might shift inside the trench.

NBC San Diego reported late Wednesday morning — when the man was still trapped — that his legs were folded backwards under a large concrete beam and dirt that collapsed had around him. The station said he’d been given IV fluids and pain medication.

8. Crews breached wall, deployed inflatable boat to rescue tourists in N.Y. cave

A boat loaded with more than two dozen people deep inside the Lockport, New York, Cave & Underground Boat Ride capsized, killing 1 and leaving 11 people injured, Lockport fire officials reported.

First responders rescued 16 people using two rescue routes.

One group of rescuers went to the “normal docking area inside the cave” where they inflated a rescue boat and launched. Firefighters paddled their way 300 feet to the capsized craft.

A second group used sledgehammers and crowbars to create a hole closer to where the boat was, fire officials said.

The rescue effort included 10 Niagara County agencies, including members of the county’s technical rescue team and the sheriff’s dive team.

9. Pa. medic, good Samaritan pull man from burning vehicle

A Williamsport man was lucky to be alive after a paramedic and a good Samaritan pulled him from his burning vehicle.

Seth Allison was pulled to safety by the two after his vehicle struck the front of a furniture, the Williamsport Sun-Gazette reported.

A University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Williamsport paramedic was getting his dinner at a nearby business and heard the crash. He used a portable fire extinguisher to try to put the fire out.

10. N.C. FFs rescue injured worker from tip of construction crane

Hanging nearly 150 feet above the ground on a crane, a man working on the site of a downtown Durham, North Carolina, high-rise Saturday morning was injured and needed help.

The Durham Fire Department came to his aid, making a swift rescue to bring him down safely with another construction crane.

Twenty-nine firefighters responded at around 9:35 a.m. to rescue the injured high-rise worker, who suffered non-life-threatening injuries on his left shoulder, side and back, according to a news release.

11. ‘It wasn’t that good of a grip': Teen survives nearly 100-foot fall at Grand Canyon

A 13-year-old North Dakota boy survived a fall of nearly 100 feet at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon during a family trip.

Authorities said it took emergency crews two hours to rescue Wyatt Kauffman after he slipped on a cliff Tuesday and plunged the nearly 100 feet (30 meters) at the Bright Angel Point trail.

The teenager was airlifted to a Las Vegas hospital for treatment of nine broken vertebrae plus a ruptured spleen, a collapsed lung, a concussion and a broken hand and dislocated finger.

12. Miami Fire Rescue saves worker impaled on rebar

A Florida construction worker suffered critical injuries after he fell and was impaled by a raised piece of steel rebar, WPLG reported.

Miami Fire Rescue paramedics were able to stabilize and treat the injured worker, while members of the department’s technical rescue team used a harness to secure him.

“Once the patient was secured, they used cutting tools to free him from the rebar which penetrated his lower body and went through the torso,” Lieutenant Pete Sanchez told WLPG.

EMS1 is using generative AI to create some content that is edited and fact-checked by our editors.

Kerri Hatt is editor-in-chief, EMS1, responsible for defining original editorial content, tracking industry trends, managing expert contributors and leading execution of special coverage efforts. Prior to joining Lexipol, she served as an editor for medical allied health B2B publications and communities.

Kerri has a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Joseph’s University, in Philadelphia. She is based out of Charleston, SC. Share your personal and agency successes, strategies and stories with Kerri at