POWELL COUNTY, Ky. (FOX 56) — A volunteer wilderness EMS unit that helps with rescues at the Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge has new gear to expand what it’s able to do.

When people fall from cliffs, Red STAR helps Kentucky State Police hoist them to safety.
Now, the team can provide the same kind of help when there’s a water emergency.

It was during a devastating flood that wiped out homes, cars, and people that Red STAR came to the realization that it needed to expand its mission.


RedSTAR Coordinator David Fifer said, “Flood rescue is not what we were originally built to do. We were originally built to pick people out of the woods. But as it turned out, in Eastern Kentucky, the water was in the woods; the flooding was everywhere. So, we were able to do those missions safely based on the equipment and training that we had. but we realized that we could do it better with more training and different kinds of equipment.”

So, the first responders got trained in water rescue. Chief of the Wolfe County Search and Rescue Department, John May, said special tools and gear can make all the difference.

“You know, when you get into flood waters, the equipment that you have is really, you know, life and death. I mean, if you know, the proper equipment can be super dangerous for everyone involved, including rescuers, you know, the people we’re going to rescue,” said May. “If you have to get out of the boat to get someone, you’re in contaminated water. I mean, you can have gasoline, pesticides—you name it—in it. So, I mean, it’s really, really nasty.”

Fifer said the new equipment can be critical in certain situations.

“Now with this new flood rescue equipment, we can put a paramedic in the water to rescue somebody who, for example, might be in their house surrounded by floodwaters,” said Fifer. “But they’re also having a medical emergency, and so now a paramedic can enter that water, make their way to the patient, and start treating them on their roof, for example, while we get prepared to rescue them with a hoist cable.


Next week, both teams will take part in flood rescue training involving a helicopter.

“It’s extremely important, I think, for the teams and not just us for a red star or Powell County, whoever. I mean, to get this type of training where if you’re called upon, you know, you can go in and assist, you know, really in the past we haven’t had the opportunity to do this, and it’s a great, great thing,” May said.

Red STAR is a nonprofit organization that relies heavily on donations and grants. To donate to their team, you can click here.