July 10, 2013

Teen suffers head injury from fall


---- — REDFORD — A 17-year-old suffered a head injury in a fall from a swinging rope above High Falls Dam on Monday.

The accident took place, Saranac Volunteer Fire Department Chief Don Uhler said, while the teen was playing “on an old rope swing that a lot of people like to enjoy.” 

Instead of swinging out over the open water, he fell short and lost his grip. Then, “he fell 6 to 8 feet and struck the back of his head on the rock, knocking himself unconscious.”

At that critical moment, the two friends he was with came to his aid.

“His friends took very appropriate action. They got him to shore and held him and let him float, protecting his head,” Uhler said.

“They were smart young people.”

Uhler would not release the teen’s name Tuesday. The Saranac fire chief did say that he believed the teen is a resident of Saranac.

His medical condition was unknown Tuesday.


The Saranac Fire Department received the initial call around 6:30 p.m. and was first to arrive. The injured boy was unresponsive at that time. 

“Due to the potential for serious injury, we made the decision to call for the Life Flight (to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington).”

Before he could be airlifted, he had to be taken out of the water.

“We got him on a backboard and got him to shore,” Uhler said.

However, the shoreline was at the edge of an embankment that the chief estimated to be 65 to 70 feet in height with a 25-to-30-degree slope.

“We used our rope knowledge and had a team set up a rope system at the top of the embankment to hoist up our young man.”


Then, the teen was placed in a stokes basket — a wire basket used in rescue operations— and carried by all-terrain vehicle to the waiting ambulance. 

The ambulance brought him to the Saranac Town Hall, a designated landing area for the helicopter. From there, he was airlifted to Burlington.

Assistance in the rescue operation was provided by four members of the Dannemora Volunteer Fire Department.

In total, 18 firefighters worked to get the teen to safety, Uhler said.

Uhler praised the special skills of some of his team members as critical to the complex operation.

“We have department members who are tech-rescue certified in rope and rescue. Their skills contributed to what I believe will be a good outcome.”


The Saranac Volunteer Fire Department is fully prepared for these types of accidents, Uhler said.

“We do a tremendous amount of training up there and pre-planning for just this type of incident.”

Uhler said the property where the teen fell is owned by New York State Electric and Gas.

The rope swing has been a favorite among locals for “many generations,” the fire chief said.

“I’m 49, and I used to go there when I was a teenager.”


The North Country can be both a fun and dangerous place for those who venture into the wilderness, Uhler said.

“The facts are that everybody engages in fun, recreational activities and, at times, it’s dangerous. And some people are more educated about the dangers than others,” Uhler said.

“There have been many drownings in some of the very popular swimming holes this year,” Uhler said of areas in New York, Vermont and New Hampshire.

But the last time Uhler remembers a similar accident happening in High Falls Dam was more than ten years ago.

That summer, a young man fell while he was walking along the top of an 80-foot embankment downriver from the falls, Uhler said.

This year’s flooding and resulting high water levels increase the dangers for those near these bodies of water, he said.

Many rocks and natural material that are usually visible are covered by water, Uhler said.

It’s fortunate that more people have not been injured this season and in other years, he said.

“The North Country, in general, has been really lucky.”

Email Felicia Krieg: fkrieg@pressrepublican.comTwitter: @FeliciaKrieg