Firefighters battle several obstacles to rescue worker trapped in palm tree

RANCHO BERNARDO (KUSI) — A tree-trimmer who became stranded near the top of a tall palm tree in Rancho Bernardo was rescued Thursday in a heart-dropping operation by the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. 

Video showed that as firefighters cut the man’s harness in a final bid to pull him to safety, the man hung suspended about 50 feet in the air with his legs wrapped around the palm and his upper body on a fire engine ladder.

"This was an extreme technical rescue,” SDFRD Battalion Chief Glenn Holder said. "These things don’t always have good outcomes." 

Emergency crews responded to the scene about 8:45 a.m. in the backyard of a residence on the Country Club-Rancho Bernardo golf course, a SDFRD spokesman said. He was pulled to safety more than an hour later at 9:55 a.m. 

The tree-trimmer was "alive, breathing and stable" after the rescue, Holder said. He was placed on a stretcher once he reached the ground and was being taken to a hospital for treatment. 

The delay in his rescue had to do with the type of trucks the fire department could use, Holder said. The most direct route to reach the tree was from the golf course, but fire engines are too heavy to drive on the soft grass.

Fire officials instead called for a lifeguard truck to respond — lifeguard vehicles are designed to drive on soft surfaces like sand — but while that vehicle was en route, a fire engine was able to get close enough for its fully-extended ladder to barely reach the top of the tree. 

The worker was stuck in the skirt of fronds near the top of the tree, requiring firefighters to cut away at the skirt to reach the tree-trimmer, Holder said. But that operation was extremely dangerous. 

"At any moment that skirt can cut loose, killing the person and injuring or killing the firefighter," Holder said. But a firefighter was able to cut away the skirt safely and cut the harness of the tree-trimmer to pull him to safety.

"I’m very proud of my firefighters today," Holder said. 

Categories: Local San Diego News