German forest worker climbs to new heights for rescue
October 25, 2011
HOHENFELS, Germany -- When German Federal Forest worker Dirk Wreden trained as a tree-climber, he never imagined that one day he would put his skills to use in rescuing a stranded U.S. paratrooper. But during the opening exercise of the Full Spectrum Training at Hohenfels this month, that is exactly what happened.
Over 1000 Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, alongside nearly 100 Soldiers from a Polish Airborne unit, dropped into Hohenfels, Oct. 5. The Forestry service had been at work for weeks clearing fences and filling in holes to help make the drop zone as safe as possible.
During a briefing several weeks before the scheduled exercise, Federal Forest chief Dr. Markus Perpeet offered the services of two forest workers who regularly scale high trees with special equipment to assist in rescue efforts should any of the jumpers accidentally be caught in the nearby trees.
"We work as partners here in the box, and I think it's our duty to offer abilities we have," said Perpeet. "We have two guys who are very tough cookies and can climb high trees safely, and we should offer this service in case of an accident."
The Hohenfels Fire and Rescue team set up training to familiarize the climbers with the fire department's high-angle rescue equipment. High-angle rescue is defined as terrain that has a slope angle of 60 degrees and higher. Rescuers are totally dependent upon the ropes used to keep them and the victims from falling and to gain access to the rescue location.
"In fact my colleague (Rudolf Rubenbauer) and myself were hoping that we wouldn't have to face such a rescue mission on this day," said Wreden. "Unfortunately, however, it came to pass."
As the first planes flew over the drop zone, Perpeet witnessed several jumpers drifting into the trees. One in particular caused him concern.
"I knew the spot," Perpeet said. "It is old growth forest, built up by very high beech trees, reaching a maximum height of 35 meters. (115 feet)
Hohenfels Fire Department Deputy Chief Gert Fuchs was among the first on the scene.
"It was about 50 meters (164 feet) in (the forest,)" said Fuchs. "Around 30 or 40 feet straight up."
Assessing the situation, the fire rescue team called in the tree climbers. With special "spurs" attached to his feet, Wreden grabbed the ropes and tackle and headed into the tree.
"Dirk was climbing up the tree like a monkey," said Perpeet.
Wreden secured a pulley to a thick limb above the trapped Soldier. Then, with the Soldier himself directing him, Wreden attached the safety rope to the paratrooper's harness, released the chute, and the three fire rescue personnel lowered him quickly to the ground.
Perpeet said the team received personnel congratulations later that day from Lt. Col. Kevin J. Quarles, U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels commander, for their quick response to what could have been a potentially deadly accident.
"Dirk is such a humble guy," said Perpeet. "He just said, 'This is my job.'"
This marks the first time the Federal Forest service has taken an active role in a rotation exercise, and by all accounts, the operation was a big success.
"To be honest, without that tree climber, I don't know how we would have rescued that Soldier," said Fuchs.