LAFD firefighters rescue zoo worker from gorilla habitat

The employee was tending to the landscape when he lost his footing on a planter and fell 15 to 20 feet into the habitat

Daily News

LOS ANGELES — Thursday’s accident at the Los Angeles Zoo’s gorilla compound could have been worse.

But Rapunzel, Kelly, Evelyn and Alaflia, the zoo’s four gorillas, were still in their bedrooms.

That made rescuing an employee who fell while working in the gorilla exhibit in Griffith Park a little less dicey for a Los Angeles Fire Department Urban Search and Rescue Team.

“An L.A. Zoo grounds maintenance employee was tending to the landscape this morning at the gorilla habitat, lost his footing on a planter, and fell 15 to 20 feet into the moat,” Zoo spokeswoman April Spurlock said in a statement. “We currently don’t have any information as to how the employee lost his footing and fell, but we will hold an internal investigation to look into the incident.”

Fire department spokeswoman Margaret Stewart said the call came in at 7:30 a.m. and responders knew special technical skills would be called for.

“Performing technical rescue operations is the specialty (of the team). Today, they put those skills to work,” she said in a statement.

When the team arrived at the enclosure near the rear of the zoo, the injured 61-year-old worker was awake and alert, the department said.

But he had suffered an injury, possibly a broken leg, and was not able to assist in the rescue.

The crews from station’s 56 in Silver Lake and 35 in Los Feliz, under the supervision of Battalion Chief Charles Butler, worked together with Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 27 out of Hollywood, to perform a rescue operation using a “ladder slide.”

“The patient was first evaluated and secured on a backboard to protect against any possible spinal injuries. Firefighters then placed him inside a litter basket, which is used to move patients during a rescue operation,” Stewart said.

A ladder, tall enough to reach the top of the enclosure, was fitted with a haul system, with ropes attached to the litter basket.

“Firefighters at the top pull the ropes, which will slowly move the basket up the ladder slide. Firefighters inside the enclosure followed with the basket to provide stabilization,” she said.

The worker was rushed to a local hospital in fair condition.

By the time the zoo opened at 10 a.m. things were pretty much back to normal.

Rapunzel, Kelly, Evelyn and Alaflia were back doing what they normally do at their big, mostly open air, dark brown rocky habitat that features a cave, pools, some patchy grass and dirt.

They munched, scratched and lumbered about their home, mostly keeping to themselves.

A couple of them were sociable, staring back at the visitors, who were staring back at them.

Corey and Rebecca Smith of Chino caught a glimpse of all the excitement at the zoo on Facebook just before they pulled into the Zoo parking lot about 11 a.m.

“We just wanted to know if the Zoo would be open,” Corey said.

They brought their son, Oakley, 2, who loves animals.

This was daughter Kiley’s first of what will likely be many visits to the Zoo. She is 10 days old, her mom said.

Both said that they were glad the worker was not seriously hurt and were mindful of zoo accidents that can happen when parents let children as close to the animals as possible.

Henry Acosta, a pastor at El Monte Calvary Chapel, arrived at the gorilla exhibit with his wife Elizabeth, son Isaac and about 20 members of his congregation for their annual zoo visit.

Acosta heard about the accident earlier in the morning.

“The first thing I thought was, I hope he’s OK,” he said.

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