Breakneck Hikers Keep Rescuers Busy

Five calls in two weeks along busy Route 9D

By Michael Turton

The last two weeks of October proved more hectic than usual for Cold Spring and North Highlands firefighters, who responded to five emergency calls from hikers that included a fatal heart attack, a rescue from a ledge and a minor injury to a first responder struck by a vehicle on Route 9D.

The Cold Spring Fire Company’s incident log provided more details:

  • Saturday, Oct. 15, 12:30 p.m., Breakneck Ridge. Four CSFC and two North Highlands Fire Company firefighters assisted a hiker who sprained an ankle on the White Trail.
  • Sunday, Oct. 23, 11:15 a.m. CSFC responded to a call at Breakneck Ridge to assist a hiker who dislocated his knee.
  • Sunday, Oct. 23, 11:35 a.m. CSFC responded 20 minutes later to a call from the fourth and highest tier of Breakneck Ridge where a male hiker in his mid-50s suffered cardiac arrest. Rope rescue teams from West Point and Orange County were called in and CPR and automated external defibrillator (AED) was administered without success.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 26, 4 p.m. CSFC responded to the abandoned quarry north of Little Stony Point. A middle-aged male hiker had become stranded on a narrow ledge on a cliff face, a familiar location to rescuers, as he was not the first. Firefighters came from a number of communities, including Newburgh. Because the Washburn parking lot is under construction, emergency vehicles parked on the shoulder. While directing traffic, Assistant Chief Josh DiNardo suffered sprains and bruises to his arm and hand when a passing vehicle struck him. CSFC closed Route 9D to traffic until the hiker was rescued.
  • Sunday, Oct. 30, 2 p.m. CSFC responded to a call for assistance at the third tier of Breakneck, where a middle-aged woman hiking with her husband and three children suffered a serious ankle injury. Seven CSFC firefighters went to the scene and carried the victim out during a heavy rain. Firefighters from North Highlands assisted. One lane of Route 9D was closed during the incident.

The situation along Route 9D is becoming increasingly hazardous, according to Cold Spring Chief Steve Smith, who said the volume of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, along with the cars parked along the road, “is getting out of control.”

Smith said the situation has been discussed at design meetings for the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, the walkway being developed to link Cold Spring and Beacon passing by Breakneck Ridge. Part of the problem is that New York state law states that “if there’s room on the shoulder of the road, you can legally park there,” he said. “If there’s no signage saying ‘No Parking,’ then they can park.”

Emergency vehicles at the Little Stony Point trailhead during a rescue on Oct. 26 (Photo by Anita Peltonen)

Emergency vehicles at the Little Stony Point trailhead during a rescue on Oct. 26 (Photo by Anita Peltonen)

The chief recalled a recent weekend when cars were parked bumper-to-bumper along both sides of 9D from the Breakneck tunnel north almost to Dutchess Manor, a distance of more than a mile. He said Fjord Trail planners have told him they will eliminate parking on the shoulder. But he wondered if signage couldn’t be done sooner. “My biggest question is still, who’s going to enforce it?” he said.

Smith also said officials could limit the number of hikers on Breakneck at any one time. “We watch them get off the train” at the Breakneck whistle stop, he said. “It’s like a herd of ants coming up the hill. The first person wants to be in the woods first because they don’t want to be stuck behind everybody else.”

On some occasions the CSFC has closed the Breakneck trail during a rescue. “That’s our call,” he said. “We take control because it’s our guys who are at risk up there.” Smith said that he wishes traffic could be slowed when firefighters are in the area; the speed limit near Breakneck is 55 mph.

One of the most serious safety issues is pedestrian traffic south of Breakneck, says Smith. “North of the tunnel hikers are on the other side of the guardrail,” he said. “But when people come off the trails south of the tunnel or by the Cornish Estate they have to get back to the tunnel” and are forced to walk with no barrier because there is no shoulder.

ehicles line Route 9D near hiking trail access points. Photo by Mike Armstrong

Vehicles line Route 9D in 2013 near hiking trail access points (File photo by Mike Armstrong)

Despite a busy second half of October, Smith said rescues are down overall from last year. “I’m lucky our guys are not exhausted yet,” he said, pointing out that weekend incidents are especially stressful because for many firefighters it cuts into family time.

At a Nov. 1 meeting of the Cold Spring Village Board, Mayor Dave Merandy expressed concern for the safety of first responders, especially in light of the DiNardo injuries. “I don’t think we should wait for the Fjord Trail to be completed” to address the congestion, he said. “It’s a miracle nobody has been killed.”

The mayor said he favors closing the road to parking and limiting parking to designated areas. At the board’s Nov. 8 meeting Merandy said he had spoken with Chief Smith about the DiNardo incident, had contacted Scenic Hudson and would attend an upcoming meeting of the  Fjord Trail Steering Committee to voice his concerns. He suggested residents attend a public meeting on the Fjord Trail scheduled for Monday, Nov. 14, at Dutchess Manor.

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