YOSEMITE – Four Yosemite National Park employees received Valor Awards at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, May 8. The rangers were recognized and honored for their valorous efforts on a complex and technical rescue on El Capitan in September 2011.
The awards were given to two Yosemite National Park Rangers, Jeffrey Webb and David Pope, and two Yosemite Helitack Crew members Eric Small and Jeff Pirog.
A private contract park helicopter pilot, Richard Shatto, was also honored with a Citizen’s Award for Bravery for his expertise in piloting the helicopter during the intense rescue operation.
“The work of these Yosemite employees, along with the helicopter pilot, exemplify professionalism and quick, strategic thinking in a rapidly changing and dangerous environment,” stated Kevin Killian, Yosemite National Park Chief Ranger. “I am extremely proud of the work of these individuals and am elated that they are receiving this distinguished recognition.”
On Sept. 26, 2011, the Yosemite National Park Emergency Communication Center received a call reporting a climber fall on the Nose Route of El Capitan.
After two days of climbing, a lead climber sustained a fall that was not life threatening. However, during the fall, a secondary rope became wrapped around his right thumb, severing the appendage clean from the hand. The severed thumb fell approximately 80 feet and landed on a small ledge. The severed thumb was retrieved by the victim’s climbing partner and put in his pocket.
The park’s contract helicopter, flown by Richard Shatto, along with Pirog, Small, Webb, and Pope, began efforts to extract the climber via short-haul. The helicopter hovered near the climbers and Webb and Pope were successfully short-hauled to the injured party.
Once rescuers were on the wall, the injured climber was transported back to El Capitan Meadow. The climber was transferred to another air medical helicopter to be flown out of the park where his thumb was later surgically reattached. The victim fully recovered and regained the use of his thumb.
Eric Small, Yosemite Helicopter Crew Supervisor, has been working for the National Park Service (NPS) since 1997. David Pope, Yosemite Park Ranger, has been working for the NPS since 2004. Jeffrey Webb, currently the North Rim District Ranger at Grand Canyon National Park, has been with the NPS since 1996, and Jeff Pirog, Assistant Helitack Foreman, since 1994.
The Valor Award, established in 1957, recognizes an employee’s demonstration of unusual courage involving a high degree of personal risk in the face of danger. The heroic act or rescue performed does not have to be related to the nominee’s official duties, nor occur at their official duty station.
The Citizen’s Award for Bravery is granted to private citizens for heroic acts or unusual bravery in the face of danger. Honorees receive a special certificate and citation signed by the Secretary of the Interior for risking their lives to save the life of any person while on property owned by or entrusted by the Department of the Interior.
Yosemite National Park Search and Rescue conducts hundreds of rescues each year. These range from lost hikers to complex technical rescues like the one described above. The efforts put forth during this incident highlight the skill, dedication, and commitment to service that exemplifies the Search and Rescue team in Yosemite National Park, says Park spokesman Scott Gediman.