As many of you have already heard, on Wednesday of last week Charlie Paget Seekins was very seriously injured when he fell from a tree he was working in. Charlie is the son of Diane Paget and Bill Seekins who have been living in the Valley since the early 70’s.
The Dispatch: (3:54 PM Wednesday, June 25) Anderson Valley Fire, Anderson Valley Ambulance, one engine Boonville Cal Fire, Cal Star 4. “Adult male, fall from tree 13325 Estates Drive Boonville”. Charlie Paget-Seekins cell phone and fire department pager received this message from our dispatch at Howard Forest but Charlie wasn’t available to respond as he has regularly done for several years.
The Accident: Wednesday morning Charlie and his ground man arrived at 13325 Estates Drive to trim and remove several small live oaks from the backyard. Charlie has operated his own tree care business for several years and has become increasingly well known throughout the valley for doing skilled work at reasonable prices.
The morning began as usual with Charlie climbing and trimming several small live oaks that were growing in clumps in the backyard. In the afternoon he started on a clump at the rear of the yard removing a 12-14 inch tree from the front of the clump falling it generally towards the house. The next tree to remove was a little smaller and growing from the back side of the clump behind the tree he had just fell. Charlie passed his flip line around the tree and attached it to the right side of his climbing belt with a device that allows the climber to easily take in or let out slack as he goes up and down the tree. Aside from his climbing belt and spurs, and unlike most tree climbers, Charlie also wore a helmet which afforded a considerable amount of protection for his head in the event of something falling on him or him falling from the tree. As he climbed Charlie wasn’t able to see the back side of the tree which had a band of fungus growing from about three or four feet from the ground and extending up nearly into the topmost portion of the tree. The fungus was growing because the back half of the tree was rotten and had virtually no strength. At a height of about 15 feet, the rot had penetrated through the majority of the trunk leaving only a thin layer of sound wood a little over an inch thick to support the upper portion of the tree. The tree appeared completely healthy other than the telltale fungus on the back side. Using his tree climbing spurs, he ascended to a height of about 25 feet removing small limbs as he went. He then removed as many limbs from the remaining top of the tree as he could reach to alter its center of balance in favor of the direction he wanted it to fall (towards the house as he had done with the previous tree) and to better able it to slip through the canopies of surrounding trees. He cut a notch or face into the tree about shoulder height then made the back cut which released the top and allowed it to fall. As the top separated from the remaining stem of the tree it became entangled in a tree it was brushing by on the left and got “hung up” just below where Charlie was working. He lowered his saw on its tether and reached out grabbing the entangled top to try to free it so it could fall to the ground. It was firmly entangled and as Charlie pulled with increasing force he heard the tree he was belted into cracking and felt it begin to fall towards the house.
Most of us have had the experience of falling or momentarily losing our balance and thinking we would fall from a step ladder, chair or similar situation. The sensation is unnerving and sometimes terrifying depending on how high off the ground you might be. Falling from 25 feet, there is no doubt that you will be injured, probably seriously and, depending on what you land on, perhaps fatally.
Charlie called out to his ground man who could do nothing to help him as Charlie tried desperately to unhook from his flip line which tied him to the now falling 10 or 12 foot portion of the tree stem. The broken section separated at about 15 feet and fell horizontally to the ground with Charlie still tied to it. As luck would have it, Charlie was slightly off center from the falling piece which put his head and face directly over the trunk of the 12 to 14 inch tree fallen earlier. The open front portion of Charlie’s helmet nearly perfectly framed the trunk of the fallen tree and delivered Charlie’s face with great force directly into it breaking four of his front teeth, causing multiple fractures of his facial bones, breaking his jaw in two places, sending a small fracture up the frontal portion of his skull and causing a small bleed in his brain.
The Emergency Response: As stated before, Charlie has been a valued member of both the Fire Department and Ambulance Crew for many years, most of the responders knew Charlie well and if you’re one of the many people fortunate enough to know Charlie you’re aware that to know him is to love him. There are givers and takers in this world and Charlie is definitely solidly in the givers camp. Aside from his many years with the Ambulance and Fire Department, he made two extended trips to Haiti in the aftermath of their earthquake working tirelessly voluntarily helping the people of Haiti to recover.
Within the Emergency Service community and particularly in rural emergency services, we are very aware that we will sometimes be assisting people we know and occasionally we will be called upon to respond when one of our own is the victim. These situations are particularly difficult for us when we have this personal relationship. The separation and distance we can usually maintain is gone and we are left trying to work with a professional demeanor while we are reacting to the same feelings of fear, anxiety, concern and horror that other family and friends have.
Although initially knocked unconscious, Charlie had regained consciousness and was able to speak to the first responders from the Fire Department. The Ambulance crew arrived very shortly after along with the Cal Fire Boonville engine crew who were the only responders that did not know Charlie personally.
An evaluation was completed and Charlie was very carefully loaded into the Ambulance and transported to the nearby airport where he was transferred to Cal Star 4 who transported him to the emergency department at Santa Rosa’s Memorial Hospital. After insuring that he was stabilized he was again transported by Cal Star to the emergency department at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto. After being transferred to the Intensive Care Unit where he was monitored until bleeding in his brain had stopped, he was transferred to a regular room on Friday evening.
Current Status: As of Monday, Charlie is now able to sit up in bed, walk around the hospital corridor, and take fluids by mouth. He continues to be monitored and is awaiting a reduction in the extensive swelling in his face before undergoing surgery for repair of his massive facial injuries. In all likelihood Charlie will be facing several weeks and quite possibly months of additional surgeries and procedures before he will be able to return to work. It is also possible that Charlie may not be able to return to his tree care business due to the horrific traumatic nature of his injuries. Working at great heights trimming and topping trees takes a large dose of confidence and the ability to work thoughtfully in a work environment that most of us would find terrifying to the point of paralysis.
How to Help: Anderson Valley Ambulance and Anderson Valley Fire Department have both set up accounts to receive donations on Charlie’s behalf. If you would like to contribute you can send a check made out to; Anderson Valley Volunteer FireFighters Association (AVVFFA) POB 414, Boonville CA 95415, with a notations to “Charlie’s Fund.” Checks to the Ambulance should be sent to; Anderson Valley Ambulance POB 144, Boonville CA 95415 with a notation to “We Help Our Own.”