Boise & Garden City

Right place, right skills: Boise firefighter, nurse credited with saving hiker’s life

Boise firefighter heard call for help, now gets award for mountain rescue

More than three months after he and his wife, a nurse, helped rescue a severely injured hiker in Colorado, Boise Senior Firefighter Shane Nelson were surprised Wednesday by a Valor Award ceremony featuring the hiker, Dave Smith, and Smith's family
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More than three months after he and his wife, a nurse, helped rescue a severely injured hiker in Colorado, Boise Senior Firefighter Shane Nelson were surprised Wednesday by a Valor Award ceremony featuring the hiker, Dave Smith, and Smith's family

Dave Smith lay, severely injured, on a Colorado mountain for nearly 24 hours before “two miracles” came along in the form of a Treasure Valley couple.

“It’s just serendipity that a firefighter and a nurse were out there,” Smith told the Idaho Statesman on Wednesday after a ceremony honoring rescuers Shane and Megan Nelson. “You couldn’t script a better rescue plan than that.”

And that wasn’t the only stroke of luck for the former Salmon resident, who is still receiving outpatient treatment in Denver for the injuries he suffered in July. In Boise on Wednesday, his father, Russ, listed a litany of serendipitous details beyond the couple’s emergency training, including:

▪  Despite his injuries and overnight ordeal, Dave was conscious and able to call out for help when other hikers came through the area. Covered with dirt and debris, “he was the color of the mountain” and would have been hard to spot if he couldn’t respond to his rescuers’ calls.

▪  The Boise couple had intended to hike a different trail that day but chose on the spur of the moment to head up rugged Wetterhorn Peak, which Dave had summited the day before.

▪  After he clambered down to reach Dave, Shane Nelson, a member of the Boise Fire Department’s technical rescue team, was able to get cell service at 13,000 feet and coordinate evacuation efforts.

“You cannot hear the details of this story without seeing divine intervention at play,” said Russ Smith of Wichita, Kan. “Dave only had a few hours left to live. He was in renal failure when he arrived at the hospital.”

Dave suffered a traumatic brain injury, broke two bones in his neck and suffered myriad other injuries when he fell descending the peak July 25, Russ Smith said. Dave remembers virtually nothing about his ordeal.

The Nelsons were alerted to his plight about 11 a.m. July 26 by other hikers who had heard his calls for help. A medivac helicopter arrived about 2 p.m., and Shane and two other hikers secured Dave and carried him more than 500 feet to the helicopter.

“All the pieces of the puzzle came together, and we were able to save a life,” Shane Nelson said.

At a surprise gathering Wednesday afternoon to give Nelson the Boise Fire Department’s Valor Award, Battalion Chief Don Gifford acknowledged the firefighter didn’t want a fuss made about his heroic actions, then added, “we disregarded your wishes.”

Dave Smith and his parents traveled to Boise for the event, expressing gratitude to the firefighter and his wife, a nurse at St. Luke’s Meridian.

Dave’s mother, Dottie Shepherd of Atlanta, Ga., said her son is a “wilderness guy” who worked as a fisheries technician for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in Salmon before his hiking accident called a halt to this year’s employment.

Although things turned out remarkably well, Shepherd hopes her son, and others, take away an important message from this incident: “Never hike alone.”

Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447

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