During the past six weeks, the Whispering Pines Fire Department has conducted three rescue operations at the swimming area near the Water Wheel campground area off Houston Mesa Road.
The most dramatic took place on Saturday, June 23, and involved seven different agencies.
The WPFD called on the expertise of Tonto Rim Search and Rescue to assist in extrication of a 27-year-old man who had attempted to jump off a cliff into the East Verde River, near the Water Wheel site.
"A witness said he saw the man come to the edge of the cliff and hesitate," said Chief Mark Essary of the WPFD. "It was reported he lost his footing and fell, hit his head, and fell again, hitting his head and shoulder. Two of my people had to climb down to the narrow ledge where he was, which was hardly big enough for the one man, let alone two of my people who were working to treat him, until the rope team arrived. That put them in danger, too."
The ledge was about 30 feet below the cliff top, according to Steven Stevens, EMT/Duty Officer with the WPFD.
The accident resulted in apparent head and shoulder trauma, Stevens said. Later reports indicated the victim was not seriously injured.
Volunteers from Beaver Valley Fire Department, Houston Mesa Fire Department and employees from Lifestar Ambulance also assisted on scene. Also assisting the WPFD were the Gila County Sheriff's Office and Native Air, which provided helicopter transport for the victim to the Valley.
Essary directed the operation from the campground.
"Back in those rocks, our radios won't reach dispatch," Essary said. Instead, he provided relay communications from the site to dispatch and directed the operation.
WPFD Assistant Chief Dave Bullard climbed down to the patient and stabilized him. Tonto Rim Search and Rescue provided technical climbing gear and equipment to pull the patient from the ledge. Once the patient was pulled from the ledge, he was hand-carried by the volunteers about three-quarters of a mile over rough terrain to the campground. He was then transported by the ambulance to a landing zone, where a helicopter took him to a Level One trauma center in Phoenix.
Commander Bill Pitterle of TSRS said this was the first rescue of this kind his group has helped with in about five years. However, the crew frequently assists in carry-outs, and whenever a rescue is needed in the backcountry, his people are called in. The TSRS has 12 to 15 certified rope-rescue technicians.
The TSRS made another rescue on the Rim on June 30, according to Pitterle. The GCSO called for their help with an injured hiker in Fossil Creek at 9 p.m.
Using the "One Call Now" system, Pitterle was able to send a message to the entire team with a single call.
They went out to the old Irving Power Plant and went up Fossil Creek trail with a team of seven, along with a medic from the Pine Strawberry Fire Department. The hiker had suffered an ankle injury.
"We have a titanium litter that we can put a big wheel on (to help with the transportation)," Pitterle said.
The victim was put on the litter and wheeled out. Pitterle said they finished the rescue at around 3 a.m., Sunday, July 1.
Essary said the WPFD has rope-rescue personnel as well and usually only needs about 10 people to work accidents that occur around the East Verde swimming areas. The Water Wheel campground is a popular swimming spot this time of year and many people jump from the cliffs into the river below. Even if the jumper is not killed, extrications are not cheap. The ambulance and helicopter rides, the fuel and equipment used can cost easily more than $15,000, Essary said.
"That's a lot of money riding on one jump," said an EMT at the scene.