Woman trapped in poison oak on Mount Diablo | October 10, 2008 | Danville Express | DanvilleSanRamon.com |


Danville Express

Community Pulse - October 10, 2008

Woman trapped in poison oak on Mount Diablo

Firefighters from the Contra Costa Fire Protection District scaled steep slopes and sawed through huge tangles of poison oak to rescue an injured hiker Saturday. District Battalion Chief Dave George said the call came in around 3:50 p.m. "The woman and her husband were hiking up near Castle Rock when she turned her right ankle."

George said the pair decided to try to work their way down a steep incline to a fire road in order to get down from the mountain more quickly. After climbing for a while, they found themselves cut off by a dense thicket of poison oak and other vegetation. "Fortunately, they were able to attract the attention of a hiker further down the hill, and he left to get help," George said.

The hiker walked more than a mile until he could get a cell signal and call 9-1-1. A crew was dispatched and the hiker guided firefighters to the spot where he'd heard the stranded couple's screams. George said until they moved directly to the base of the slope it was impossible to see the couple. Once the crews spotted the couple, they sprang into action, setting up lines and climbing up to them. "They had to cut a path with machetes and, where it was thicker, with a chainsaw," he explained.

Rescuers accompanied the injured woman down, lowering her in a basket where the slope became too steep for her to safely climb with her injury. Once down she was examined by waiting paramedics but declined to go to the hospital, stating that she would seek private medical treatment.

George credited a number of factors to the successful rescue, one of the seven to 10 such missions the fire district is called on to perform each year. He said that they received the call early enough in the day that there was plenty of light for the rescue. Also the female patient was hiking with another person, they had plenty of water and snacks, and they kept their cool when they got into a bad situation.

He also credited the training his firefighters receive for keeping the situation under control. "There was no trail where we went, no book on how to create something where nothing exists. A lot of common sense, a lot of thinking on the fly, and making sure no one gets injured."

There was some concern about the crew's exposure to so much poison oak. George said they cleaned their equipment at the scene and then again back at the station. He said he's not sure they are out of the woods yet in dealing with the highly allergenic oil of the plant. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if we didn't see some residual effects from the poison oak. We'll see in a day or two if anyone is itching."

--Geoff Gillette