APPLEGATE — Firefighters and logging crew members braved 500 feet of steep, uneven terrain late Thursday morning to rescue a logger injured by a rolling log near the bottom of an embankment.
Rob McKenzie, 50, part of a crew contracted to fell trees before they were hauled out of the area by HM Inc. logging crews, was struck by the log just before 9:45 a.m. while working on the Pilot Joe reforestation project.
McKenzie and fellow crew members were at work in Hinkle Gulch, a remote area about three miles off Thompson Creek Road in the Applegate Valley. Fire officials said the section of log was about 2 feet in diameter and caused significant back and hip injuries.
"He was in a lot of pain," said Lalo Aguilar of HM Inc.
McKenzie was also in a difficult spot, as he'd been working 500 feet down a steep ravine, dotted with trees and uneven ground.
"With the terrain, the extraction takes longer," said Applegate firefighter Gary DeSimone, adding that rescue efforts had to be slow and steady.
Crews from Applegate Valley Fire District No. 9, the Oregon Department of Forestry and Jackson County Fire District No. 5 rigged a pulley system after arriving on the scene at about 10:20 a.m.
Firefighters and logging crew workers carried McKenzie up the embankment on a backboard, attached to a rope.
Crew members at the top and midpoints assisted as they pulled the backboard up the hill.
Those holding on to the backboard walked up the steep hill, guiding it and navigating the choppy terrain while trying to stay on their feet.
"It was pretty tough," said logging crew member Ron Young.
Applegate Valley Fire District operations chief Chris Wolfard said McKenzie was in shock and had difficulty breathing.
Once crews made it to the top of the hill at about 11:35 a.m., crews loaded McKenzie into a truck before transporting him up a dirt road to a Mercy Flights helicopter. He was then flown to Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center. RRMC reported that he was was in critical condition Thursday night.
Ed Hanscom, co-owner of HM Inc., said these types of incidents are rare.
"It's been, I think, two or three years since we've had to pack anybody out," Hanscom said.
He added that crews are trained in first aid, which is required by law, and that he holds regular safety meetings on how to handle accidents until emergency crews arrive.
"It's pretty tough on these guys," Hanscom said of the injury. "They don't like to see their buddies get (hurt)."
Other crew members said McKenzie was a pro with a saw.
"He was one of the best cutters out there. He's good," Aguilar said.
While rescue operations are rare, fire officials said they are ready for them when they happen.
"They're very rare, and none of them are ever the same," Wolfard said, adding training for crews is purposely difficult so firefighters can be adequately prepared for the real-life emergencies.
"These types of things take a lot of time," Wolfard said.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.