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Video: N.Y. firefighters rescue climber trapped on cliff in quarry

Members of the Syracuse Fire Department said the person was without a rope or a partner and became stuck about 80 feet up


Photo/Syracuse Fire Department

Anne Hayes

JAMESVILLE, N.Y. — As Syracuse firefighter Chris Duffy scaled down the side of the Jamesville Quarry he was calm as could be, despite hanging more than 80 feet over the base of the quarry.

“I don’t think it could have gone any better,” Duffy said.

Duffy and several other members of the Syracuse Fire Department were called to the quarry at 9:13 p.m. last Friday for reports of a climber stuck about 80 feet up on the side of the quarry near Rock Cut Road in DeWitt.

The climber had been attempting to scale the near-vertical cliffside without a rope or a climbing partner, they said.

She became stuck when she realized there was no safe way to continue upward or to climb back down, which left her stranded well after it was dark out.

The SFD rescue crew was brought into the quarry on utility vehicles loaded with gear necessary for the rescue, Lt. Jeremy Burton said.

Burton recalls staring up at the cliff face the climber was stuck on and having no idea how to get his crew up to the edge of the cliff. They would have to approach the climber from the top because it was impossible to approach from the base of the quarry.

Initially, they requested the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office’s helicopter, Air 1, to act as an ‘elevator’ for the crew to get to the top of the cliff. However, they were able to find a way to scale the sides.

The biggest challenge they faced was the looseness of the rocks that make up the cliff face, they said. One of them described the experience as similar to trying to climb a wall made of marbles.

Eventually, they made it to the top and set up anchors for the machine that would help Duffy repel down beside the stranded climber.

Because so much of the cliffside was loose rocks, the team decided that Duffy should descend a few feet away from the climber so that there was less risk of rocks falling and injuring her.

When Duffy reached the climber he strapped her into a patient harness that would attach to his harness, he said. As they began to repel down the cliff together, more rocks began falling under their feet.

As the pair was reaching the bottom, rocks fell from above, landing just feet away from Duffy and the climber.

Despite the falling rocks, Duffy and the climber were able to reach the ground safely. The climber was evaluated at the scene but was unharmed.

In the spring, cliffs, like the one where the climber was stranded, are arguably more dangerous than they are at any other time of the year, Kisselstein said. The constant rain and snow melting washes away a lot of the dirt and sediment that hold the rocks together which adds to the danger of climbing, especially without ropes.

Luckily the climber was extremely calm the entire time, Duffy said. It made the entire rescue operation run much smoother.

The entire rescue took around 39 minutes from the time they were dispatched, Syracuse Fire Department District Fire Chief Rick Kisselstein said. Most of the time was spent making a plan and scaling the side of the wall. Once Duffy was ready to descend, the rescue took about 10 minutes.

Jamesville Fire Department was the first department dispatched, however, they called SFD when they realized they would have to perform a high-angle technical rescue, Burton said.

As a professional fire department, rather than volunteer, SFD trains for many kinds of rescues that other departments may not have the time or equipment to train for, Kisselstein said.

As a result, Syracuse rescue crews have been called to assist across the region, as far as Utica, Kisselstein said.

These types of high-angle technical rescues are a rare occurrence and are high risk, Burton explained. These rescues represent a high threat to the patient’s safety as well as the safety of the first responders, therefore, it is frequently included in training exercises.

This was the first time many of the responding firefighters had performed this particular rescue apart from training exercises. They said the rescue went as smoothly as they could have hoped and wouldn’t have changed a thing if they had to do it again.


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