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December 11, 2013

Area woman: Fire chief saved my life

By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — A Unadilla woman and a toddler likely owe their lives to Dave Robinson for getting his coat.

Robinson, chief of the Gilbertsville Fire Department, said Tuesday that he was headed out to hunt Sunday, the last day of hunting season, when he realized he needed to return home to get his coat. On his way back down Lilley Hill Road in the town of Butternuts at 12:41 p.m., Robinson said, he noticed swerve marks heading off the road and down into a steep, heavily wooded ravine.

“I just immediately thought, ‘Oh ... no,’” Robinson said.

After making his way down what Robinson estimated to be about a 60-foot ravine, he said he saw an abandoned Jeep in the stream bed, with two car seats inside. Robinson contacted fire control, he said, and followed tracks into the four-mile-deep woods.

After about three quarters of a mile, Robinson said, he heard the voice of a woman and began calling out to her, instructing her to walk back toward his voice.

Danielle M. Fink, 25, was carrying a small child and was extremely disoriented, Robinson said. He said Fink didn’t remember anything other than getting out of her Jeep.

“From the bottom of that ravine, she wouldn’t have seen the road above,” said Scot Lueck, a member of the Gilbertsville Fire Department. “In her state of shock, it’s easy to see how she got confused and started walking in the opposite direction of the road, deeper into the woods.”

Robinson said he tried to calm down the little girl, who he said was probably two or three years old, and then carried Fink and the child back to the vehicle and across a small creek. Members of the Gilbertsville Fire Department threw ropes down and pulled a dazed Fink and the child back up the steep slope, where an ambulance was waiting.

Fink complained of back, neck and shoulder pain, but the child was unharmed thanks to the car seat, Robinson said.

Fink’s Jeep was traveling southeast when it hit a patch of ice, spun 180 degrees, hit a tree trunk on the passenger side, and continued down over the embankment, according to public information officer Trooper Nathan Riegal. He said Fink and the child were brought to A.O. Fox Hospital, where Fink was admitted.

According to Robinson, it was determined that Fink had swerved to miss a deer on the icy road, and slid back and forth before plummeting down the ravine. He said it was fortunate that the wheels stayed on the ground, otherwise the accident likely would have been fatal. Robinson said since there are no houses near the accident scene, it’s not likely that Fink would have been found in a timely manner.

“There is not much doubt that Chief Robinson saved this woman’s life,” Lueck said. “In her disoriented state, she most likely would have wandered through the miles of woods in that area until she was exhausted and then died of exposure along with the child on that 26-degree day.”

According to Robinson, it was a difficult rescue, and he gave a lot of credit to his crew at the Gilbertsville Fire Department.

“It wasn’t just me,” Robinson said. “We’re a good team.”

Although he said this rescue was remarkable, Lueck said it was just another day on the job for emergency personnel.

“This is what the EMS people do weekly,” he said. “It just doesn’t usually get publicized, and simply ends with a few pats on the back.”

Robinson said he has seen much worse accidents, and was glad that there was a happy ending this time.

“This is what we’ve been trained for,” he said. “When it actually happens, something kicks in and you just do what you need to do and don’t get a chance to reflect until later on. When you do get to reflect, it hits you and its hard to believe what you just did.”