People Profiles: First Responder Risks Life to Rescue Complete Stranger’s iPhone

FEATURE: 01.29.19- Would you go through extreme lengths to retrieve your iPhone if while taking pictures on vacation you accidentally dropped it down a steep embankment, what with its invaluable and irreplaceable data, from your contacts to photos stored on the device, that you would risk life and limb to try and save it? What if the Apple smartphone wasn’t yours to begin with?

About the Series

  • People Profiles is a special series that periodically runs here in the “Mac Potpourri” column which are human interest stories that feature individuals and their contribution to the community of Apple product users, either how they use it to help others or how it has helped them in their own lives or whether just related to it in general
  • for more about the impetus and inspiration behind the series, see this introduction

(story continues after the break…)

The branch at the bottom right of this video screen capture is the location of an iPhone that dropped 1,500 feet down a hillside just above Crater Lake in Oregon where a California first responder performed a risky rescue to retrieve the smartphone. (Photo: Contributed by Subject of Story)

A California first responder on a two week vacation with their family at Crater Lake in Oregon did exactly that when last year in July 2018, while off duty, they performed a risky rescue in order to retrieve a complete stranger’s iPhone that accidentally fell the length of four football fields down a steep embankment just above the lake. They recounted their story in vivid detail as it transpired that day.

“We were on our annual two-week Summer vacation in Oregon. We were actually at our first excursion for the trip at Crater Lake. We usually travel with at least one other family and we always take turns taking photos so we actually have the entire family in the frame. Unfortunately, we were running solo for this trip so we asked a passing couple to take a family photo for us because the lake was beautiful.”

“The woman took my spouse’s iPhone and handed off her own iPhone to her boyfriend. The boyfriend had a misstep on the edge of the asphalt where it met the dirt trail, lost his balance, and his girlfriend’s iPhone went flying in an arc — in what seemed like slow motion… — down the hill. I think we were all hoping that a large rock or fallen tree branches would have stopped it because the side of the hill went all the way down to the lake which was probably about 1,500 feet below. The woman had some choice words for her boyfriend. LOL!”

The first responder spent a few seconds surveying the area and was confident that they could safely retrieve the woman’s iPhone and offered to do so.

“The woman adamantly refused to let me risk my life for ‘just a phone.’ My spouse, on the other hand, was quick to say, ‘Go get it!’ (I don’t know what that was all about!). Luckily for us, the iPhone ended up landing just uphill of a large branch.”

“The boyfriend was a boater and happened to have just enough rope in his truck so that we were able to tie me off and he was able to belay me so I wouldn’t go tumbling down! The slope was a good 30-40 degrees with a very loose 4-foot top layer. Luckily, I was able to find a narrow area near some large trees that was more densely packed. As long as I stayed on that surface, it was fine.”

Being a first responder, their training and expertise certainly came in handy and into play for the retrieval of the iPhone but one particular extracurricular activity they participated in as a college student probably served them even better during the rescue.

“As a first responder, you learn to take in and size up as much of the scene as possible in a relatively short amount of time. So, yes, I think it came in handy. I’m not a firefighter who’s trained in nor does high angle rescues all the time. I used to rock climb a lot during college and I actually implemented some of those rope tying skills during the retrieval process.”

On the decision to attempt the rescue of a total stranger’s iPhone — which is certainly not what one would expect a first responder to risk their life for, except for saving another person’s life which is their primary duty— this first responder explained their reasoning for doing it when they could have easily called it an unfortunate accident that was clearly not of their doing.

“The woman’s boyfriend decided to go to the ranger’s station to see what options we had and possibly if they were able to retrieve the iPhone for us. The ranger pretty much told us to ‘write it off because it was too dangerous.'”

“While we were waiting for the boyfriend to come back from the station, we listened to the woman who said that she just came back from a trip to Spain and that all of her photos were still on it. She didn’t upload them to a cloud or a personal computer. Talk about piling on the guilt! What’s that saying? ‘You can always make money, but you can’t always make memories?'”

“I made a decision to rescue her iPhone because it was the only medium that had her memories from her trip to Spain. Besides, the world needs more positivity and this was but one minor way to effect that.”

On the couple’s reaction when the first responder said they would retrieve the phone — such as having any reservations and/or concerns — and how thankful the two were when they finally came back up with the iPHone in tow (plus, whether or not any reward was offered)?

“The lady refused to let me ‘risk my life’ when I first offered to retrieve the phone. But, like I mentioned before, I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t think it was safe enough. They didn’t offer a reward nor did I expect one. They were genuinely thankful and it was nice seeing their smiles. (They did take photos with me).”

So the big question probably on the minds of everyone reading this is the condition of the person’s iPHone after the 1,500-foot drop. Was it damaged in any way and was it still functioning?

“Aside from it being dusty, it was actually in great condition!”

As far as offering to take the easy route and simply offer to buy a replacement, they joked that their co-pay for a visit to the emergency room, should they have been injured during the rescue attempt, would be less than the price of purchasing a new phone.

“My co-pay is $500. How much are the new iPhones now? LOL!”

They make a very good point! Of the three iPhone models released last year — which included the iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max — the latter two are premium priced at more than $1,000+ while the first, while the budget-friendly option, costs $649 making all three Apple smartphones well above the first responder’s co-pay for an ER visit.

Not only was this brave and selfless first responder risking their life for an inanimate piece of technology, they were risking breaking the law and explained the possible legal ramifications of their decision.

“I’m fairly certain that I saw some signage stating that it was illegal to go off of the trail and into the unimproved areas. There was the whole ‘serious injury or death’ disclaimer. I never bothered looking up the punishment, but I’m certain that there was a fine involved.”

With such a risky maneuver involved in rescuing an iphone filled with irreplaceable memories, how did this first responder’s spouse feel about what they did as well as their children’s thoughts on their parent’s valor while off duty?

“My spouse was quick to volunteer to send me down the hill. Once I was halfway down the embankment, though, that’s when reality set in and they started to question why they told me to go! We still had about 12 more days to go on our trip and it would’ve been a tad difficult without me. LOL!

“Our daughter is very practical and she was freaking out the entire time. Our youngest son was excited, but cautious and he kept yelling for me to ‘Be careful!'”

Would they have done the same thing had it been their own phone or their spouse’s phone?

“If the phone landed in the same exact spot and we had some rope, I would undoubtedly do the same. Having a good length of rope was key: without it, I wouldn’t have risked it.”

So, does this first responder own an iPhone themselves? And how long have they been an iPhone user and what do they like about the Apple smartphone?

“I’ve had some variation of an iPhone since the iPhone 4 in 2010. I have an old 6S right now. I’m just not the type to keep upgrading to the ‘latest and greatest’ the very minute that it’s released. We have an iMac and MacBook Pro at home so we’re very integrated. I keep our entire music album on my phone (I love music!) and it’s nice being able to sync everything on iTunes.”

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A first responder for the past 17 years — their only career in life so far — the 41-year old individual has been married happily to their spouse for 15 years and has three children, two sons and one daughter.

As far as this individual’s interests and hobbies go, aside from camping and traveling, they enjoy listening to an eclectic range of music, attending motor sports events — they used to race cars — and at one point were heavily into cycling. They also love working with their hands. As an example, they have built and rebuilt every single component imaginable (e.g. engine, transmission, suspension, etc.) of an old track car that they own. And recently they got into competitive multi-gun and long range precision competitions which they participate in whenever they have the time to spare.

On their job as a first responder, they divulged which division they work in and what being on the job has entailed.

“EMS and fire personnel don’t put our lives on the line nearly as much as frontline first responders like police officers do. Every first responder will remember different patients or calls for different reasons. For obvious reasons, we remember the heart wrenching calls that involve babies and pediatric patients who met an unnatural death. It truly sucks and it takes a special person to stay in EMS for a long time. I believe the national average burnout rate in EMS is about 5 years. The county that I work in is one of the busiest 911 systems in the country and it’s said that one year here is worth about 3 in other, less busy counties. Seeing what we see on a potentially daily basis gives us an appreciation for life that I wish the general public had.”

And just what do they enjoy about being a first responder?

“I love how we have a fair amount of freedom and being able to help patients and their families in their time of need. They don’t teach you this in school, but first responders wear many different hats: we’re mostly healthcare providers, patient advocates, and also therapists. Believe it or not, there are a lot of people out there who don’t have anyone they can talk to for a gamut of reasons. We have the ability to make a positive impact in people’s lives and we always try our best.”

Finally, what influenced this individual to become a first responder in the first place?

“I’ve always been drawn to helping people!”

This courageous and selfless act by this first responder while off duty — wearing the hat of a parent taking their family out on vacation and putting back on their hat as EMS personnel — to rescue not a life but an Apple device that contained life memories saved on an iPhone, risking their own life and limb in the process, is truly commendable. Life is certainly more precious than something considered precious such as a smartphone and it is truly remarkable to know that first responders — particularly the subject of this story — would go out of their way to help a complete stranger rescue lost property in the same way they would if it was a life in danger of being lost.


Note from the Author: This is the inaugural edition of the People Profiles series here in the “Mac Potpourri” column. The subject of this story agreed to be interviewed and share their personal account of the events that transpired provided that they remain anonymous. (Full disclosure- the subject of this story is a childhood friend of this writer, both individuals having attended the same elementary and high schools from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s.).

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