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Sunday, November 28, 2021

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Third-Generation Fire Chief details “Career Call” at Quarry, emphasizes Department staffing, training

The call came nearly three months to the day voters in Limestone rejected a referendum to fully fund and staff the local department

LIMESTONE – “The victims were both terrified and hypothermic.”

That’s the summary of what became a call early Monday of two people trapped on a cliff inside a Kankakee County Quarry in Lehigh, detailed by Limestone Fire Chief Mike Whalen. 

The call resulted in multiple area agencies and businesses working to save two trapped pair.

“It was apparent that this was going to turn into a complex rescue call. Lt. Nate Boyce from Kankakee Fire arrived on scene and commanded the rescue operations. Nate immediately put a plan together and we called for assistance from other agencies.” Whalen detailed the experience in a social media posting Monday afternoon entitled ‘Man on a Rope’ highlighting the efforts of Kankakee Fire Lieutenant Dave Wiechen, seen dangling in the photo above. 

“Dave rappelled off the 200 foot top down to the victims, placed them both in a harness and connected them to the rescue lines to be lowered to the ground to the waiting ambulance. With the instability of the stone and the ice and snow on the sides, the rescue presented many serious risks. In short…..Dave literally risked his life to save the two victims,” Whalen detailed. “While what Dave did was very risky, the important factor in all of this is that everyone involved in the rescue operations were fully trained and certified in this discipline. The reason the call went as planned is because the personnel there knew exactly what they were doing.”

The Chief explained the “Career Call”, emphasizes why it becomes so important to have certified, trained and fully staffed fire departments. The Chief’s comments come nearly three months to the day voters in Limestone rejected a referendum to fund the Limestone Fire Department.  After a bid failed, fire crews were cut on weekends until a grant provided under the CURE program, as part of the CARES act, restored the Department to full operations in early December.

The victims became trapped after a group of four people sledding became separated.  It was a victim’s friend who took a different pathway down that later called rescuers to the scene. 

Agencies from as far away as Orland Park were dispatched to the scene to provide what Whalen detailed as a ‘complex rope system’ to lower rescuers to access the victims, in part due to unstable terrain.  Crews from Scanlon Excavating and the Kankakee County Highway Department also were on the scene to clear a path for rescuers.

“These agencies were staffed with certified personnel. If these personnel were not on duty, it is unknown how many, if any would have responded. Many of them would be (at their) other full-time jobs and unable to respond.” The Chief, a third-generation firefighter himself, elucidated.

After four hours trapped, both victims were rescued from the 200-foot pile of stone and transported to the hospital for treatment of hypothermia.

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