POWELL COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — The 40,000 acres of scenic mountains, falls, and forest in Kentucky sees its fair share of danger. On average the Red River Gorge sees about 60 rescues a year, with a spike typically during summer.
This post-pandemic summer is seeing more than usual, according to David Fifer, founder and paramedic with Red Star Wilderness EMS. Red Star is the first and only wilderness EMS servicing the gorge.
Fifer says so far this year they've helped on a dozen rescues.
"Falls are definitely associated with the gorge and they seem to always capture the headlines, but those are really the minority of the calls that we have out here. Most are for much less serious things like the broken ankles, heat exhaustion," said Fifer.
He's stressing the importance of preparedness and knowing the signs of heat exhaustion.
"There are some common themes and one of them is definitely a lack of preparation, not knowing how difficult a trail is going to be, not carrying enough water, and really probably just pushing yourself a little bit too far. People need to be comfortable with kind of setting their pride aside and just taking it slow, and taking some breaks," said Fifer.
Fifer expects heat exhaustion and heat stroke to play a role in rescues as the summer progresses.
"Slurring their speech, seeking severe weakness. Being highly agitated beyond just sort of being in a little bit of a bad mood from a sweaty hike really having like a change in personality. When you have those very hot temperatures combined with those changes in the patient's brain function and essentially that's heatstroke until proven otherwise," said Fifer.
Red Star supplies emergency medical services for the gorge, following along with the search and rescue teams who respond to calls for help if medical aid is needed.
Here are some tips Red Star suggests to stay safe when visiting the Gorge:
- Make sure your cell phone is fully charged and consider bringing a backup battery brick.
- Make sure the location settings on your phone are set up correctly to allow sharing of your location.
- Bring plenty of water and some salty snacks/electrolyte tablets. The balance of sodium and water you consume is just as important as consuming water itself.
- Pace yourself and play it safe! Put pride aside and err on the side of risk management.
- Carry trail maps, which can almost always be found online these days. Cell phone batteries die, and you won't always have service of course. Even if you aren't great at reading maps or using a compass, a simple paper map can usually help you get oriented.
- Strongly consider taking a basic wilderness first aid course