A 52-year-old Audubon resident was stuck three stories up in the air for more than two hours on Tuesday while rescue workers from four fire companies watched from below.
By Matt Skoufalos
Pinned between the crow’s nest of a Genie lift and an old, failing tree, and soaked with sweat from the July heat, the man grappled with a log larger than the dimensions of his own body as the rescue effort around him continued with painstaking diligence.
Swaying, heaving, and occasionally bellowing in anguish, he never lost consciousness, however, while the crowd of firefighters on the Loucroft Road property did its best to judge the physics of the situation from three stories below.
The worker had been clearing trees on a lot in the 400 block of the Haddonfield neighborhood when one branch unexpectedly broke in the wrong direction.
Audubon resident Matt LaPalomento was walking past the scene when the accident occurred.
“I heard a yell like I’ve never heard before,” he said. “The scream this guy let out was serious.”
LaPalomento said that the tree worker had been accompanied by two coworkers on the ground who didn’t seem to him to know how to operate the machinery. He recalled hearing the victim yell, “‘My leg’s finished.’”
Within a handful of minutes,local police and firefighter-EMT’s from Haddonfield, Westmont, Cherry Hill, Camden City, and Lawnside had responded to the scene.
The rescue was complicated, said Haddonfield Police Lieutenant Jason Cutler, because people on the ground “were worried about [the tree] shifting and taking everybody out.”
Finally, after clearing growth from the branches several feet above, and tethering the lift and nearby trees with guide ropes, the ladder truck from Westmont Fire Company stretched out beside the man.
The first harness firefighters tried to fasten around him didn’t fit, so a second rope had to be hauled up.
Still the man waited.
Firefighters eventually affixed the second harness, and shielded the man’s face with a cloth while they went to work cutting him out of the lift with a metal grinder.
Sparks flew, the engine below idled loudly, and eventually, the work was done.
Finally, more than two grueling hours after the accident occurred, the victim was transferred to the basket of the ladder truck and lowered to the ground.
He was placed in the immediate care of emergency workers, including an onsite surgical team, and transported to Cooper Medical Center.
The identity of the victim was not released. Cutler said the accident was not the first to befall tree workers in the borough, recounting a fatal injury suffered on Chews Landing Road in 2014.
But as the scene was cleared, the firefighters who had sweated it out with the victim, both in the ground and on the ladder for those two-plus hours, allowed themselves a moment at the muster.
“That was a hell of a job today,” one chief said, rallying the crowd.