VANCOUVER, Wash. -- A pair of 20-year-old firefighter/paramedics from Vancouver set out Friday for an afternoon of hard runs along the Columbia River Gorge, training for a grueling Air Force boot camp. Instead, the would-be para-rescue jumpers wound up coordinating two rescue efforts: hikers injured by a rockslide and a man who fell 40 feet and later died.
Dylan Congrove, a volunteer with Clark County Fire and Rescue, and Jeremiah Lefor, a volunteer with the Vancouver Fire Department, had just parked below Horsetail Falls about 3:15 p.m. when they heard a chilling sound.
"There was just a loud crack," Congrove said. "And then we heard a bunch of rocks moving."
The men ran one-third of a mile up the trail to assist. At first, it appeared only one woman had minor cuts. As Congrove helped her down and began tending to her, Lefor ran back up and retrieved a bloodied girl.
Moments later, the girl's mother emerged with serious head trauma. Then came the mother's boyfriend, with similar injuries. Congrove, working from a first aid kit in the back of his truck, dealt with the injured as Lefor looked for others hurt by falling rocks.
"The mom got hit on the head, a glancing blow by a melon-sized boulder," said Deputy Paul McRedmond, a Multnomah County Sheriff's Office spokesman.
When ambulances arrived to take the injured to area hospitals, Congrove relayed his medical assessments.
"It's sort of like an EMT nightmare -- trying to help these people and every time you wipe away the blood, you find another problem," he said.
It would be nearly 7 p.m. and pitch black outside when Congrove was reunited with his friend. Turns out, Lefor learned from passing hikers that a chow-mix dog had been perched alone for hours three miles uphill at the lip of Triple Falls.
Lefor sprinted the distance, climbed down the 40-foot face of the falls below the dog, and found a badly injured man curled in a ball. Lefor tore off his sweatshirt and gave it to the shivering man, promising to come back. Then he ran back out of the woods to find a phone.
When he returned, the man was fading, he said. For hours, Lefor stayed by the man's side, awaiting two teams of rescuers. By the time help arrived, the man had died. His identity was withheld pending notice to family.
Congrove was waiting at the trailhead when Lefor finally descended. The friends hugged. Lefor pulled off a pair of blue surgical gloves and Congrove doled out beef jerky. Together they tried to put their harrowing day behind them.
"I'm not a runner," said Lefor, figuring he'd logged about nine miles up and down trails. "But this is what we were both trained to do."
They planned to return to run the switchbacks soon.
Boot camp starts just after the New Year.
Wade Nkrumah of The Oregonian contributed to this report.Kimberly A.C. Wilson: 503-412-7017; firstname.lastname@example.org