READY TO ROLL

READY TO ROLL

Friday, February 11, 2005

DARING ROPE RESCUES

On June 11, 1959, a game of Cowboys and Indians ended for 12-year-old Bobby Saunders with a plunge into a deep hole at a construction site in Rosslyn. The boy survived the fall but was trapped at the bottom of the hole, which measured just 30 inches in diameter. If the dirt shifted, he would be buried alive.

The fire alarm office dispatched Engine 10, Truck 2, Rescue 4 and the duty platoon commander, Battalion Chief James Fought, to the 2000-block of North Adams Street at about 8 p.m.

Fought was at Lee Highway and North Adams Street, en route to a meeting at the county health department, when the alarm was sounded. Fought, accompanied that night in the chief's buggy by Captain Charles Theodore, arrived ahead of the engine, truck and rescue.

The chief could see a firefighter would have to be lowered into that 70- to 80-foot hole and rescue the boy. The risks were great. A cave-in could kill the boy and the firefighter.

As soon as the apparatus arrived, Fought called for Firefighter Joe Davis of Rescue 4. Davis, who was 25 at the time, had about two years on the paid department, weighed in at a slim 150 pounds and was less than six feet tall.

``Joe, it's either you or me,'' Fought said. ``We're the smallest ones here. If we sent a big man down he may never come back up alive.''

``OK chief I'll go down the hole,’’ Fought recalled Davis saying. ``You tie the knots.''

Life or death

Fought secured a double bowline so Davis could easily snag the boy from the bottom. Other firefighters stabilized the top of the hole with wood planks to equally distribute their weight and prevent the walls from crumbling on Davis and the boy.

Davis removed his shoes and rolled up his pants. The barefooted firefighter was lowered into the hole by a crew of firefighters, including longtime volunteer Joe Brooks. Fought hunched over the top of the hole and supervised the operation. A police lieutenant trained a light down the shaft for the firefighter's 15-minute decent. A separate rope was lowered for the boy.

``You could feel little clumps of dirt hitting you on the head as you were being lowered,'' ’’Davis said. ``That didn’t feel too good.’’

At the bottom, Davis found Bobby Saunders in 18 inches of water with a broken ankle. The firefighter squeezed in beside the boy, and secured the rescue rope. ``It was kind of dark down there,’’ Davis said. ``There wasn’t a whole lot of room.’’

Within 30 minutes, Bobby Saunders and Joe Davis were out of the hole. ``The good Lord was with us,’’ Davis said.

Sewage plant

Years later, Arlington firefighters engaged in another dangerous rope rescue, but this time with a tragic ending.

On Sept. 25, 1992, firefighters recovered the bodies of three workers killed by fumes in a tank at the county’s sewage treatment plant. Arlington Firefighter Bob Gray and Alexandria Firefighter John North were lowered into the darkened tank through a hatch to stabilize the deadly and explosive atmosphere and recover the bodies.

The operation lasted 14 ½ hours and both Gray and North were cited for their heroics.