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Local authorities complain about Coast Guard response to stranded rescuers

Jun. 7, 2013 - 03:00PM   |  
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A California fire chief is criticizing the Coast Guard for its refusal to evacuate a team of first responders stranded on a rocky beach during Memorial Day weekend.

But Coast Guard officials argue that there was no imminent threat to those on the ground, and to remove them would have put Coasties in danger.

A rescue team of volunteers and public safety officialsfrom Del Norte County, Calif., found themselves stranded on the rocks May 24 after they responded to a rock climber who had fallen off a cliff near Enderts Beach, in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.

The injured woman had a broken ankle, wrist and forearm as well as a head injuryafter falling about 20 feet, said Matthew Sutton, an emergency medical technician and one of the responders.

The civilian rescuers requested Coast Guard assistance for the woman, but the service initially refused, said Sgt. Terry McNamara, the search-and-rescue coordinator with the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Department. After McNamara explained the seriousness of her injuries, however, an aircrew from Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay was dispatched. The injured woman and her male companion were medevaced at 9:30 p.m. She is recovering and grateful to all involved, Sutton said.

By that time, the rescue team on the ground, which included ambulance personnel, volunteer firefighters from Crescent City, a member of the sheriff’s department and a park ranger, had become stranded on the rocks by high tide.

McNamara said he asked the Coast Guard for an airlift, but was denied.

“The risk did not warrant to do the hoist,” said Capt. Salvatore Palmeri, commanding officer of Sector Humboldt Bay.

The Coast Guard did deliver jackets, blankets, food and water to the nine people stranded so they could wait out high tide and walk out of the area in the morning.

Lt. Bernie Garrigan, a Sector Humboldt Bay spokesman, said the decision was based on what the Coast Guard knew —that the team was not in any danger but just had to wait a few hours for low tide in order to walk out.

That decision raised the ire of the local responders.

“My volunteers give their time to save people every day, then when they are in need of help, the paid agencies from the federal government cannot help them?” Fire Chief Steve Wakefield, with the Crescent City Volunteer Fire Department, told the The (Santa Rosa, Calif.) Press Democrat in a May 26 article.

The Press Democrat reports that the rescuers were wet and cold and the temperature was dropping into the 40s.

They were instead rescued by a helo team from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and all were off the rocks by 12:30 a.m.

Palmeri said the Coast Guard met with the local responders May 29 and all ultimately agreed with the service’s decision.

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