Inside San Diego

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Rescue 44 Helps Lifeguards Make Challenging Cliff Rescues

Rescue 44 Lifeguard Truck

The allure of San Diego’s breathtakingly beautiful coastline draws thousands of visitors to places like Sunset Cliffs and Torrey Pines. Up close, the beauty of the beach can prove to be dangerous for those not paying close attention.

“Sunset Cliffs has a lot of sandstone, slippery bluffs. If you get too close to the edge it could crumble, you could slip and fall,” said San Diego Fire-Rescue Lifeguard Jacob Magness. “We advise staying at least a body length away from the edge.”

When accidents along the coast do happen, lifeguards respond.

“We make about 50 to 60 cliff rescues a year. About half at Sunset Cliffs,” said San Diego Fire-Rescue Lifeguard Sgt. Jon Vipond.

In the past lifeguards have had to rely on ropes, pulleys, muscle and a lot of manpower to haul up the stranded and injured. Now lifeguards have a new tool to help in the form of Rescue 44, a multi-purpose emergency response vehicle.

“This truck is very important to us. It allows us to make cliff rescues a lot more efficiently and at a faster pace,” said Magness.

Instead of lifeguards having to physically pull patients back up a cliff, Rescue 44 does most of the heavy lifting mechanically.

“A lot of research and development has gone into building this truck specifically for our needs,” said Magness.

Rescue 44 was custom built by Pierce Manufacturing. One of the truck’s most unique features includes an articulating or “knuckle boom” crane. The crane extends 56 feet horizontally. Fully extended it can hoist about 1,920 pounds. Extended 10 feet or less, the crane can hold approximately 15,000 pounds.

“We can haul a rescuer or multiple rescuers and a patient and a stretcher up a slope or even up a vertical, up some vertical terrain and it’s done mechanically,” said Vipond.

Rescue 44 isn’t limited to cliff rescues. It’s been used during storms to help people trapped by rising waters in the San Diego River.

“It makes a really good platform for setting up anchors,” said Vipond. You can get a good line of sight if you’re searching out in a brushy area for victims.”