One of the most bizarre incidents that Captain Matt Gardner, of Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue, has ever seen in his nearly eight years with the department took place on March 27, the Friday of Spring Break.
At first, the Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue team had no reason to suspect that the day would turn into a daylong series of rescues, he said.
But, once their units returned early that morning from Crescent Beach Trail after tending to a hiker with a possible femur fracture, the emergency call volume throughout Clatsop County started to pick up. Gardner began to sense how the day would trend, he said.
“Sometimes you get a gut feeling,” he said. “You can see that what’s to come could make for a long day.”
Gardner’s hunch proved dead on.
Shortly after noon, the Hamlet Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to Saddle Mountain, where a middle-aged man appeared to be having a stroke. The Hamlet team required assistance, but its first line of backup in the “mutual aid” network, Seaside Fire Department, was busy dealing with two calls of its own.
Next in line is Cannon Beach. “We were toned out because Hamlet didn’t have anybody responding,” said Frank Swedenborg, Cannon Beach’s assistant fire chief.
While Swedenborg remained at the base of the mountain, Gardner and a Cannon Beach recruit, Keaton Walde, hiked up the trail — where Medix technicians had already arrived — to reach the possible stroke patient. And, on the way, they received word of a second emergency taking place on Saddle Mountain, a “fall patient.”
As it happened, patient No. 2, a woman who looked to be in her 30s, had fallen from a point on the same trail almost directly above the unconscious stroke patient. She had tumbled through brush down the embankment, passed the stroke patient, and came to rest about 60 feet below him. Gardner estimates that she fell about 120 total feet.
The original caller “witnessed it with his own two eyes, could have reached out and touched her,” Gardner said.
Seaside, Gearhart and Hamlet sent emergency personnel. Having determined the “call within a call” would require a rope rescue, they requested assistance from the Clatsop County High Angle Rescue Team. “It was just a team effort, man,” he said.
Incredibly, the fall patient, apart from suffering a minor head laceration, seemed fine and ended up refusing transport to Providence Seaside Hospital, where the stroke patient wound up.
“She had to have used up eight of her nine cat lives,” Gardner said.
It is normal, Gardner said, for Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue to receive multiple emergency medical calls in a single day. “That’s standard.” To get them “back to back to back” is a little odd.
But the coincidence of facing two rescue situations — at the same time, in the same remote location, that are completely unrelated — is beyond unusual in Gardner’s experience.
“It’s not common. Let’s put it that way,” Fire Chief Mike Balzer said.
Had the woman somehow fallen as result of the stroke patient’s ordeal — had she, say, fainted at the sight of the older man’s distress — then the double rescue would have made sense. For the rescues to have had nothing to do with each other is downright spooky, in Gardner’s opinion.
“If I ever write a book, it’s going to go in the book,” Gardner said. “You can’t figure that out.”