Firefighters train to rescue victims out of trees ahead of busy season

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KERNERSVILLE, N.C. -- With spring comes severe weather; and with severe weather, come downed trees.

Firefighters in the Piedmont Triad want to make sure that, if downed trees put someone in danger, they’re ready to rescue them.

“One of the reasons [why] fires are so dangerous, is because [they are] unpredictable and trees are the same way,” said Winston-Salem Fire Captain Eric Compton, who also owns Compton’s Tree Service.

Compton’s company was hired by the city of Kernersville to clear some trees at Fourth of July Park. Compton used this opportunity to use the trees as a platform for training Winston-Salem and Kernersville firefighters to rescue people stuck in trees.

“It’s a lot of variables there to deal with as a rescuer,” Compton said. “We don’t have this kind of incident happen every day.”

Compton says every year at least 120 deaths are reported thanks to people doing tree work across the United States. He says this time of year is usually one of the busiest for those types of incidents. Not only thanks to severe weather, but also because of people trying to do some spring cleaning. He says many times, homeowners attempt to do the tree work on their own, and if they’re not properly trained or don’t have the right equipment they can get in trouble within seconds.

“They end up getting their self in a position that’s hard to get out of and they have to call 911,” Compton said. “You think that that tree is going to hold your weight, or hold the weight of the limb, and once you make the cut, it’s too late then.”

The firefighters practiced securing a climber, who then scaled the tree and secured the victim. They then communicate their way through getting the victim and rescuer down safely.

“Having the rescuer gain access to the victim, removing the victim down, it’s all done by ropes,” Compton said. “You tension a rope with a couple hundred pounds, and then it breaks or fails, it’s devastating.”

The rescuers were re-enacting a scenario from years ago, where a man was doing tree work and ended up getting stuck 75 feet in the air, while surrounded by limbs and power lines. This resulted in the rescuers having to create what amounted to a zip line to get the victim down.

“Tree work in general is just dangerous. But when you have storm damage, and trees are under pressure, the limbs are broken and hanging on top of you, it adds another level of danger to it,” Compton said.

Compton recalled five different instances where his company quoted property owners for tree work, and the property owners decided to do the work on their own with a ladder, “and went out on their own and tried to do it,” Compton said. “Two of them are paralyzed and two of them are dead now.”

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