Fossil Creek rescues overwhelm first responders

Posted at 7:24 PM, Sep 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-05 01:37:44-04

Gila County first responders say they've been overwhelmed by the calls from injured or ailing hikers in the Fossil Creek area.

The trail to Fossil Springs, beginning just outside Strawberry, is a 4.5 mile walk each way with a 1,500 foot elevation change.

Many are unprepared for the strenuous hike to the swimming area.

"Coming out of Upper Springs Trail is like climbing Camelback Mountain on a summer afternoon," Pine- Strawberry Fire Chief Gary Morris said.

Morris said emergency crews have helped nearly 500 people from 2015 to 2016 in the area. During that time, four people have also died from drowning incidents. 

"We have a real public safety crisis going on," Morris said.

Gila County fire and sheriff crews say their job is even harder because the U.S. Forest Service has failed to maintain access roads for emergency vehicles.

As a result, paramedics and rescuers must walk down the trail to patients, which can take two hours. To speed response times, the emergency crews are now asking the U.S. Forest Service to fix up and widen the current hiking trails. It used to be jeep trail.

"If we had access where we could get a side-by-side or a quad to help usher some equipment down, it makes it easier on my people, and they can move quicker," said Sgt. Dennis Newman from the Gila County Sheriff's Office. "It cuts down on our response considerably."

A Coconino National Forest spokesman says there is no money to improve the roads. He added rescue calls have dropped this year due to permitting a limited number of hikers and providing better warnings about trail conditions.