Dramatic New Year’s Eve Rescue

Putnam County to develop rope rescue team

By Michael Turton

The latest rescue of lost-and-stranded hikers came at a time when even the most dedicated of volunteers would have preferred to be at a party. The incident began late in the afternoon of Thursday, Dec. 31, and didn’t end until about 3:30 a.m., well after the ball had dropped in Times Square and most revelers had gone to bed.

Two hikers from Dutchess County, a man in his 40s and his 11-year-old daughter, along with two Bernese Mountain dogs, set out on a hike that took them along trails north of Cold Spring, off Route 9D. According to Josh DiNardo, then chief of the Cold Spring Fire Company (CSFC), the call for assistance came in around 5 p.m. “It began to get dark sooner than they expected,” DiNardo said. He said the pair became disoriented and strayed away from the trail, a turn of events that resulted in them not only being lost but stranded in a precarious spot.

Outgoing CSFC Chief Josh DiNardo (Photo by M. Turton)

Josh DiNardo (file photo)

Early on, DiNardo, who served as incident commander during the rescue, was able to get a rough fix on the pair’s location when he spotted a light from the man’s cell phone. They were somewhere between the old Cornish Estate and a long-abandoned quarry popular with hikers. But the cell phone battery was nearly dead, eliminating a small beacon that might have greatly simplified and sped up the rescue. A helicopter from the New York State Police was called in to assist in the search.

Hikers stranded on a ledge

DiNardo dispatched a team from the North Highlands Fire Company to approach the stranded hikers from the quarry side and a CSFC team to come in from the Cornish side. The hiker’s cell phone engaged just long enough for DiNardo to speak to him and to learn that he and his daughter were stranded on a ledge; a cliff rose above them and a cliff fell below them. “As soon as I realized the position they were in, I called in the Orange County Rope Rescue Team,” DiNardo said. When that team arrived, its members repelled down the upper cliff to assist the hikers and dogs down the lower cliff.

The hikers were able to walk out, although the girl suffered mild hypothermia. The two had not dressed for the colder night weather and had taken no food or water.

It was a noteworthy night for DiNardo for reasons other than the rescue. When he went up the mountain he was CSFC chief. But his term expired at midnight, and colleague Steve Smith took over. By the time he descended the mountain DiNardo was assistant chief. “I think that was pretty unique,” he said.

Rope rescue

The Putnam County Bureau of Emergency Services was recently awarded a federal grant of $150,000 help develop a rope rescue team. The fledgling Putnam County team will be created in partnership with the Westchester County Technical Rescue Team. The grant was awarded in early December through the 2015 Technical Rescue and Urban Search and Rescue Grant Program and will run through August 2018.

“A complete technical rescue team typically has training and expertise in search and rescue, rope rescue, trench rescue, confined space rescue, building collapse as well as high angle rescue and swift water rescue,” county legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, who represents Philipstown, told The Paper. She said a “building block approach” will be used in developing the new team. “Each skill will be added block by block until the county has a multi-disciplined response group in place,” she said, adding that the bureau will pursue additional funding to support building and maintaining the team.

Currently, local fire companies often call the Orange County Rope Rescue Team when their specialized assistance is needed, such as New Year’s Eve. The team is comprised of members of several fire departments from Orange County, along with those from the City of Newburgh, West Point, Port Jervis and Monticello.

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