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Fort Stewart Fire helps in rescue
Fort Stewart Firefighters WEB
From left, Fort Stewart Fire Department firefighters Station Chief James Ashdown, Brian Fike, Shawn Smith, Lt. Matthew Henderson and James Bilbrey demonstrate the rope-and-belay system they used to rescue a Tattnall County employee off of a water tower May 21 in Cobbtown. - photo by Kevin Larson/US Army

Fort Stewart firefighters used their specialized lifesaving skills and training to rescue a Tattnall County maintenance worker May 21.

The employee collapsed while repairing a 135-foot tall water tower in Cobbtown. Fort Stewart’s Special Rescue Team — a rescue truck, a 105-foot platform truck, and six firefighters — was dispatched on the county’s request to assist in the rescue of the 21-year-old county employee.

Upon arriving at 3:20 p.m., Fort Stewart firefighter and rescue captain Lt. Matthew Henderson assessed the situation and determined a rope-and-belay system was needed to recover the employee because of the height of the water tower.

Weather was a big factor, too, he said.

“Lightning was in the area, and we were concerned for both the rescuers and the patient,” Henderson said.

Henderson assigned his team members their roles. Fort Stewart firefighter Shawn Smith became the incident commander. Lt. Henderson, Fort Stewart firefighter Brian Fike and a Ware County rescue technician would execute the high-angle rescue. Fort Stewart firefighters Lt. Matthew Pearce and James Bilbrey would operate the platform truck.

The three high-angle rescuers made their way to the top of the water tower and recovered the employee. Because he was unable to descend the water tower’s ladder, the firefighters constructed a rope-and-belay system that would lower him to the ground. After 15 minutes, the ropes were in place. Fike manned the main line carrying the county employee.

“I was confident in our decision to use the system we did,” Fike said. “I was constantly monitoring all parts of the system that were visible, to ensure efficiency and safety.”

At 4:14 p.m., the county employee made it to the ground and waiting emergency medical technicians. Given the weather conditions, the firefighters were relieved the operation was successful.

“With the adverse weather conditions of rain and lightning, I was glad that the operation went smoothly and safely,” Bilbrey said.

Fort Stewart Station Chief James H. Ashdown said his colleague, Tattnall County Emergency Management Agency Deputy Director Tommy Dubberly, called him later to thank and praise the Fort Stewart firefighters for their assistance and ability.

“The operation went very smooth and without a problem,” Fort Stewart Fire Chief Donald L. Hollis Sr. said. “Both sets of crew members were very professional and knowledgeable about the task they were assigned.”

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