Hamilton firefighter suffers serious injuries after fall during Albion Falls rescue

A Hamilton firefighter suffered serious injuries after falling off a ledge at Albion Falls. The Hamilton Fire Department says he is stable condition after his coworkers used a rope rescue to save him.

Firefighters were rescuing lost hikers who had strayed off the path

A Hamilton firefighter fell off a ledge while rescuing hikers at Albion Falls last week. His coworkers performed a rope rescue to bring him up to street level. (Jeremy Cohn )

A Hamilton firefighter suffered serious injuries after falling off a ledge at Albion Falls Wednesday night while trying to rescue a group of lost hikers.

The man is in serious, but stable condition, according to the Hamilton Fire Department. And while the three lost hikers were found, says Fire Chief Dave Cunliffe, he also says this wouldn't have happened if the hikers stayed on the path. 

"In this case, the individuals that we were going to assist had left the trail area," he said. "I can't stress enough. These types of situations are absolutely preventable and people need to adhere to the signage and the protection that's being put in place." 

Cunliffe says that the city has gone to "great lengths" for safety measures, like fencing and signage to warn visitors. He says it's important that people treat this warning seriously.

The hikers had gotten lost in the dark after leaving the marked area. Rescuers were having trouble locating the group and split up into two teams. One of the teams entered the area through a south stair access, and two firefighters separated off the path near the cliff's edge. 

The firefighters searched the side of the cliff with flashlights and called out for the hikers. But as they turned to head back, one firefighter lost his footing and fell off the edge. He dropped approximately five to six metres to the ground, according to Cunliffe.

Other firefighters were able to make their way to their co-worker and provided first aid until a rope system could be set up to lift him back to street level. It took 20 firefighters about 45 minutes to lift him out to paramedics, who had arrived on the scene. 

The firefighter was transported to Hamilton General trauma centre with multiple injuries, including to his head and face, says Cunliffe. He noted that the firefighter was wearing a specific helmet for climbing, which may have helped protect him. 

The Hamilton Professional Fire Fighters Association, Local 288 says he is undergoing further testing. 

The critical incident stress team, a peer support group, has been deployed to support the other firefighters involved. Cunliffe stressed that the impact of the event was felt by the whole crew.  "The one firefighter basically watched as his team member went over the falls," he said. "This is all about mental health and mental wellness." The firefighters were taken out of service last night. 

Crews had found the hikers and helped them back up from the gorge. Firefighters carried one hiker who had an ankle injury, who was then transported to a Hamilton hospital.

Cunliffe says that while instinct takes over and firefighters jump into action, it's important that their mental health is addressed as they work through the situation. (Christine Rankin)

Lost hikers ignored warning signs and strayed off the path

This is the first rope-rescue there in the past couple of years, according to Ken Leendertse, director of bylaw services at the city of Hamilton. 

An ambassador program was started two years ago to direct and educate visitors to stay on the paths and away from prohibited areas. The fencing hasn't been a deterrent: the program estimates there have been over 30,000 visitors to Albion Falls, which is line with previous years. But visitors are still not heeding warnings.  

"Obviously the message is still not getting out," Leendertse said.

The city has laid 547 charges so far this year against trespassers. The most common charges include being in a prohibited area, refusing to leave a prohibited area, and walking/scaling the rock face. This surpasses last year's numbers, which Leendertse said was just over 500 charges for that area. 

The majority of those ticketed are out-of-towners, said Leendertse. He added, one of the hikers involved last night just recently moved to Hamilton and that at least one other was from out of town. 

The Ministry of Labour is investigating the incident, along with the fire department's health and safety committee.

City of Hamilton investigators and Hamilton police will be investigating whether there is sufficient information to place charges. Investigators will speak with the hikers involved later today.