Hellsgate Makes Daring Rescue

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When Star Valley's newly formed Hellsgate Fire Department received a call on the morning of Dec. 28 that a man was having a heart attack and rising flood waters in Houston Creek had him cut off from help, they jumped into action and probably saved his life.

Steve Vincent, a 40-year-old Star Valley resident, suffered a heart attack on Dec. 28 and his wife, Debbie, called 911 for help.

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Firefighters with the Hellsgate Fire Department back across Houston Creek running along Sprague Drive in Star Valley to rescue Steve Vincent, who suffered a heart attack during flooding the weekend of Dec. 28.

But after the fire department and an ambulance arrived at their home on Sprague Drive next to the Patterson Ranch in Star Valley, they couldn't get across Houston Creek to help Steve because swiftly flowing flood waters were too high to ford.

Steve however was in pain due to fluid around his heart and needed immediate help, so firefighters decided they had to risk crossing the swollen creek.

"I can't say enough about how awesome they were," said Debbie.

"They went way beyond what I could have expected."

Despite the quickly rising creek, firefighters decided something had to be done right away or Steve might not make it.

Jumping into the bed of Fire Chief Gary Hatch's Ford F350 four-wheel-drive command truck with their equipment, Capt. John Wisner, Capt. Cris Lecher and EMT Nick Degroot hung on in the bed of the truck as Hatch slowly backed across the creek.

Reaching the other side, they stabilized Steve enough to put him in the bed of the truck and take him back across the creek.

Steve was transferred to the waiting ambulance and rushed to the Payson Regional Medical Center.

After he was given emergency treatment, Steve was transported to a heart specialist in the Valley.

Steve is home now, but he and Debbie said they might not be celebrating his return, had it not been for the efforts of the Hellsgate Fire Department.

Wisner said one of the reasons they went to such lengths to get to Steve is because they had a history with him from a previous emergency earlier in December and they knew his situation was critical.

On Dec. 18, Steve suffered his first heart attack, but flooding at that time also had him cut off, so a helicopter was called in to airlift him out.

On Dec. 28, emergency responders could have also tried to call in a helicopter, but overcast skies and a mixture of rain and snow prevented that from being a viable option, said Wisner.

"We knew we couldn't get an aircraft in this time because of the weather," said Wisner. "But we also knew it was critical to get across and help Steve."

He said the department has a favorite saying, "Risk a lot to save a lot."

He said there was a real risk that if they didn't get to Steve, he might not live.

Knowing that was a possibility, rescuers made the only decision they could, said Wisner, they had to go across.

"I could see them on the other side of the creek," said Debbie. "But there was no chance we could have gotten across on or own, those guys went to so much more trouble than we ever expected of them, they really should qualify for the good guys award."

The Vincents were not the only ones worried about Steve.

The Livestock Manager at the Patterson Ranch, Bill Senger, lives right next to the Vincents and said when he heard that Steve was in trouble and help could not get across Houston Creek, he went down offering help.

"The water was flowing at least as high as the top of the wheels on that truck," said Senger. "So, my guess is it was at least three feet deep, but it was moving really fast."

Senger also said he was astonished at the heroic efforts by emergency personnel to get Steve the help he needed.

"My thing is that these guys really went above and beyond what they were required to do," said Senger. "This is just a small fire department, they could have just as easily said it was too dangerous, but they did whatever they had to do to get across."

When asked to what he attributes the heroic efforts by his department in rescuing Steve, Hatch was quick to give credit to everyone but himself.

"Because we already knew Mr. Vincent had heart trouble, we knew that getting help to him was essential," said Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch. "We had been on the call Dec. 18 when they had to fly him out, so the guys knew it was a critical situation and we had to do something to get him across the creek."

After tying a rope to department Engineer Bob Eavenson to keep him from being swept away if he was washed out of the truck bed, Hatch made a preliminary run backwards across the creek with Eavenson checking the depth with a pole to ensure they could get across safely.

After deciding it was not too deep to try a crossing, Eavenson traded places with three other firefighters and the four rescuers braved the raging creek.

Hatch said there was no hesitation on the part of Hellsgate firefighters and EMTs.

"Because of our past history with Mr. Vincent, we knew we had to act fast, and the department has such a great bunch of guys, there was never any question what we had to do."

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