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‘When our training and perseverance pay off, it’s worth everything’

We must celebrate our successes, like the opportunity to watch a young man grow up and thrive following a brush with death stopped only by a team of rescuers

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North Transylvania volunteer firefighters Valen Garren, Andrew Gilbert, Parker Taylor and Assistant Chief Allison Taylor during a frigid winter search and rescue.

By Allison Taylor

I see a Happy Birthday post on social media, and tears of joy flood my eyes. Christopher just turned 20 years old!

When I first met Christopher, he was a young teenager with a group of friends whom we assisted out of the woods on a grueling winter overnight search and rescue call. I believe he had just turned 16 at that time. Three boys got lost in a remote and rugged area of Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. Hypothermia had set in, and we weren’t sure if the boys would have survived the night had they not been rescued. So, seeing each graduation, birthday and the other happy moments that Christopher’s mom posts always light up my day.

It was one of those unseasonably warm winter days in our mountains, and the three boys headed off from their camping group in shorts. After becoming lost, they crossed the river and got wet. They were Boy Scouts and knew enough to get to a high spot to gain enough cell service to make a 911 call.

As darkness fell, temperatures plummeted to below 30.

My team was first into the woods. In this area of Pisgah, there are multiple river crossings. The first two are accessible to cross via ATV/UTV, but then it turned to wading access only.

As the cold settled in after sunset, our team advised all other teams to hold back, build a fire for us when we returned, and stay dry. Each river crossing became more challenging, with our pants freezing into a solid shape of iced-over material. Some crossings were deeper than others, and all were fairly wide. There was no easier way to access the three boys, and we knew that time was critical.

When we made patient contact, the boys were huddled together and had said their goodbyes. They were in rough shape and were not expecting to make it out. After a short moment of us sharing our layers with them, we gave them a pep talk that the only way out was to walk – and to wade the river multiple times.

As we started out, we set a swift pace to make a hasty exit and to help raise body temperatures. One of our firefighters even carried the boy who was in the worst condition across every single river crossing so as not to add to his hypothermia.

I believe our rescue team counted 12 river crossings. After completing our last river crossing, we warmed by the fire that the other teams had built and began the process of ATV and UTV shuttles to get everyone out of the woods. By the time we all were clear, it was nearly morning.

I have never been so cold in my life, and getting warm took more effort than I had expected before I could get to sleep. The boys we rescued were almost the same age as my son at that time, and that took a mental toll on my exhausted state of mind. After finally sleeping for a few hours, the next day brought phone calls from some of the mothers as they wanted to say thank you – and offer to return the borrowed layers of clothes.

Thankfully, each of the boys made a full recovery from their hypothermia, and approximately one year later, they sent us a video sharing their gratitude. I’m so thankful that Christopher’s mom connected with me on social media, and that I have the opportunity to see the positive outcome of our efforts as he continues to grow up and thrive in life. The joy that I get from seeing his successes can remedy any bad day, challenging call or the fatigue from dedicating so much time as a volunteer first responder while also working full time.

Although we have our share of difficult calls with less-than-desirable outcomes, it is successes such as these that remind us of why we do what we do. In our area, most of us are volunteers. We miss sleep, work and family time to assist those in need – and we wouldn’t change it for anything. We’re willing to show up to train, respond to calls and push through conditions that are not ideal. Our mission is to save lives and protect property, and when our training and perseverance pay off, it’s worth everything.

About the author

Assistant Chief Allison Taylor is a volunteer with North Transylvania Fire Rescue in Pisgah Forest, N.C. In addition to being the assistant chief, Taylor is also the vice chair and treasurer of the department’s board of directors. Her certifications include Firefighter II, Wildland Firefighter, Technical Rescue, Technical Rescue: Machinery & Agriculture, Land Search Team Field Member, FLSE, and Instructor II. Her son, Parker Taylor, is certified as Firefighter II and Technical Rescue, and is about to complete his Wildland Firefighter certification.

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