On October 10, 2017, Monroe County Fire Department received a 911 call to respond to High Falls State Park. Two brothers, ages 17 and 12, had fallen from the top of the waterfall. (According to officials, James, and his younger brother, 12-year-old Christian, were walking along the rocks above the falls when they were swept away in the fast-moving water, falling 20 to 25 feet down to even more rocks.) Bystanders on scene located the 17-year-old standing in the waterfall and called 911.
Monroe County Fire assessed the situation and called the Georgia Search and Rescue (GSAR) Task Force for mutual-aid assistance. On arrival, the GSAR task force could not provide a solution. Monroe County Emergency Management Agency called Georgia State Patrol’s aviation unit for assistance (Cobb Fire and Emergency Services Technical Rescue Team is attached to this unit). The aviation unit, piloted by Captain Greg Mercier, responded with Firefighter Rusty Brown.
After a flyover to assess the scene and a discussion between Mercier and Brown involving the complexity and uncertainty of the operation, Mercier landed the 407 Bell helicopter on the bridge. Mercier and Brown deplaned and boarded another 407 copter that was readied for the rescue operation.
FF Brown clipped into the short-haul operation unit, piloted by Mercier. Willie Wood was the technical flight officer. Brown informed Wood that Brown could not conduct this operation with a personal flotation device because the device would cause him to be washed out by the waterfall. Brown also told Wood that if Brown were dragged underwater, Wood should count to three and then lift Brown up.
Brown realized the severity of the situation as he approached the victim. He noted that the waterfall was bigger and more turbulent than he had thought. He observed the male victim standing on a rock among an eddy in the waterfall. The fall was breaking approximately 15 feet over his head. Brown was secured to the helicopter with a short haul rope about 100 feet long.
As Brown approached the victim, the fall began to surge over him and wash him out and away from the victim. Brown got his footing, and the victim helped him to stand up inside the waterfall. Brown made multiple attempts to place a rescue strap around the victim. The attempts failed: He or the victim was washed into the recirculation pool at the bottom of the fall. Brown finally got the quick strap around the victim, but Brown was then washed downstream out of the waterfall and under the water by the victim’s weight.
When Brown popped out of the water, he could not see the victim. He immediately signaled to Wood to lift them out of the water, fearing that they both would drown. As the helicopter began to lift them up, the short haul rope was wrapped around Brown’s neck and body. Brown was able to remove the rope from his neck, but not his lower body. The rope had tangled around him in the recirculating pool of the waterfall. As the lift occurred, Brown was lifted by his legs with the victim attached to him. Brown was inverted during the lift; his head was under the water. The victim and Brown were safely removed and placed on the bridge for the second rescue. The victim’s 12-year-old brother was recovered on the rocks, deceased. Brown acquired a stokes basket for his recovery. Brown suffered an injury in the rescue. Firefighter Brown went above and beyond the call of duty.