Everyone, by now, has read about the dramatic rescue of a Jim Thorpe resident from the Glen Onoko Falls on Tuesday afternoon. He can be very thankful that his fellow hikers were there and able to care for him until help arrived on scene. Keeping him warm after the initial exposure to icy water was critical to his surviving the extrication.
While the article goes on to describe the rescue, it does not fully describe the unsafe conditions encountered by the responding volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel from Jim Thorpe and the surrounding communities. The Glen Onoko Falls trail is nothing more than a "deer" path in places and is blocked by fallen trees and rock slides. Hand lines have to be deployed in at least four separate locations to prevent the entire rescue team from sliding down the path and into the rocky creek. It continues to get worse with every passing year.
While hikers use the trail at their own risk, should volunteer personnel be required to rescue at their own risk? Anyone that has participated in Glen rescues can tell you what it's like to bring a loaded Stokes basket down the trail. Imagine six men carrying the basket on level ground and then picture the same six men on a path that's barely wide enough for the basket and on a 30 to 60 degree slope. We literally crawl our way down the trail in places using ropes to slow the descent of the basket and also as hand lines for the rescuers. Where fallen trees cross the trail, we have to pass the Stokes hand to hand under the trunk to continue. Where the trail is washed away, we have to place men to act as anchors as we crawl by. Ask any of the 30 or so volunteers who participated in Tuesday's rescue as to what it was like to climb the trail and then to bring the patient down the trail. To a man, they were exhausted.
Tuesday's rescue call went out at 2:30 p.m.and the victim was placed in the ambulance at approximately 5 p.m. The rescue took two hours and 30 minutes from start to finish. What if the patient's condition was worse?
Or, what happens if local volunteers refuse to go and put themselves at risk? The responsible state agency would have to perform the rescue. But, the state doesn't have a mountain rescue team in proximity to the Glen, so we can't very well refuse.
There are a few simple things that can be done that won't change the natural beauty of the Falls, but will make the rescue safer, quicker and more efficient. We'd like to work with the responsible state agency to place trail markers, cut fallen tree trunks and possibly place rescue rings in specific locations to expedite rope deployment. However, we've been told that we'd be liable for anything that might happen as a result of our repairs.
We need to get the responsible state agencies to the table where we can work out a sensible rescue plan that ensures our safety. Thanks,