The dramatic rescue of a hiker who fell nearly 30 feet off Cochran Falls last year earned several local first responders with awards of valor.
Dawson County Emergency Services Lt. Todd Hollaway, Paramedic Andrew Wilson and the department's entire B-Shift received the Life Saving Valor Award that recognizes outstanding firefighters for their heroic efforts Saturday during the Georgia State Firefighters Association annual fire service banquet in Albany.
Chief Lanier Swafford, who also serves as the state agency's current president, said he was proud to see his crew recognized for saving a young man's life.
"Every day we run calls that make a difference in people's lives and it's just a few like this that wind up to be the extraordinary," he said. "I'm proud of the guys, proud of the award and proud of the recognition it brings to the county, because they see that we do run what I consider to be a top-notch department with the greatest people in the world and can give a cutting-edge service."
The daring, September 2012 rescue began with emergency personnel driving nearly two miles down a narrow mountain road and then hiking another three miles with their gear into the Chattahoochee National Forest, about 4 miles from Amicalola Falls State Park.
"It was a tough call because we knew where it was at, and we knew it was a challenging location," Swafford said. "We'd had three previous falls up there since my tenure with the department, two of which involved fatalities, so we knew the chances of a serious injury or a death was high."
The emergency crew then repelled down the side of an embankment to reach the 22-year-old man, who had been hiking with friends when he fell and suffered several broken bones in his lower extremities.
They were able to stabilize him and treated his injuries on a thin, mountain ledge before he was secured on a basket stretcher, lifted into the air and flown by DNR Aviation at about 40 mph over treetops to emergency workers waiting in a nearby field.
The rescue was captured on video and sparked national media attention for the emergency crew's actions.
While the rescue was dramatic, Swafford said it was "no different than what we do every day."
"These are the events we train for. These are the events that we hope that we're able to respond and deliver that service, whether it be patient care, fire service, whatever, that makes the difference," Swafford said. "And in this young man's life it did. It made a difference."
B-Shift Battalion Chief Milton Keller said he could not be more proud of the shift he supervises.
"This is a great example of how standardized training prepares different departments to operate effectively together. [The award] shows the drive and dedication of our local firefighters and emergency personnel," he said.
Hollaway was also involved in last week's rescue of a wheelchair bound man from a van fire on Ga. 400 in Forsyth County.
Swafford said he was not surprised to hear of the off-duty paramedic's heroics.
"That's just the caliber of the kind of man he is. I wouldn't expect anything less from him or anyone in our department," he said.