Noelle Smith vows her tree-climbing days are over.
Smith, assistant principal of Greeneville High School, scaled an oak tree late Saturday afternoon in her Grace Drive yard to cut a dead limb off a walnut tree.
An unanticipated two-hour ordeal followed.
Smith said Monday she and her husband, David B. Smith, had been doing yard work in Saturday’s sultry heat when the couple decided to remove the tree limb out of concern it may fall on someone.
Smith said her husband does not like heights, but she readily ascended the tree on a ladder to remove the limb about 25 feet off the ground.
“I embarked on climbing and then sawing the limb 25 feet high in the walnut tree,” she said Monday.
Smith said that after about 20 minutes in the tree, she began to feel very ill. It came on quick.
“I grew very sickly from heat exhaustion. I couldn’t feel the extremities of my limbs,” she said. “I couldn’t get down the ladder and I was straddling the tree in our front yard.”
While her husband climbed up the ladder and held her leg to stabilize her in the tree, a neighbor called for help. The Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department arrived and used a rescue ladder to get to where Smith was clinging to a fork in the tree.
“All I could think was, I was going to fall out of this tree and die. I was terrified,” she said. “I had no feeling in my arms and my legs at this point.”
Smith said she lost consciousness for about 10 minutes. Tusculum firefighters kept Smith steady and calmed her.
Given Smith’s condition, the ladder was not sufficient to get her down, and the Greeneville Fire Department Station 3 ladder truck was called in.
Greeneville-Greene County EMS arrived to assist. A harness-like device was attached to prevent Smith from falling before she was gently carried down the Greeneville engine ladder.
Once on the ground, Smith was placed in an ambulance, where she cooled off and was given water. Smith said she came around quickly and did not require transport to a hospital.
“I had no abrasions. The firemen were very gentle with me,” she said.
In addition to firefighters and EMS, Tusculum police Chief Danny Greene and a bucket truck from Greeneville Light & Power System arrived to help.
Smith was in the tree for over an hour. She said that at one point, first responders feared she may be suffering a heat stroke and a medical helicopter was placed on standby.
“I am fortunate and grateful for the creative thinking that was employed by first responders and for their professionalism. I left the tree without injury — not a scratch. I continue to hydrate at home. I am grateful not to have fallen and am thankful I didn’t die,” Smith wrote Monday in a communication to city schools colleagues.
“This is certainly a lesson in how quickly heat can affect one’s body,” she added.
David Smith, who is director of TRIO programs at Tusculum University, also had praise for the first responders and others who who helped his wife.
“Were it not for the dedicated professionals from Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department, Greeneville Fire Department, EMS, and Greeneville Light and Power, my spouse could have faced a disastrous injury. The quick work of a neighbor and responding agencies ensured my spouse had the medical attention she needed,” he said.
David Smith said the men and women serving as emergency personnel in Greeneville “(are) a blessing to my family and me and our community. I am humbled by their selfless efforts and grateful for their professionalism.”
Noelle Smith taught for 15 years in Greene County Schools before taking the Greeneville City Schools position, and said the school systems often work together to achieve common goals. She experienced first-hand the same type of teamwork from firefighters and other first responders Saturday.
“Any time the city and county work together, I think the community benefits from it,” she said.
Marty Shelton, Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department chief, said that Smith’s rescue was a “coordinated effort” of several agencies.
“With EMS on scene and a helicopter on standby to be launched if needed, a safety rope was rigged using pulleys, webbing, and a safety belt on to Mrs. Smith,” Shelton said. “Once she was down the aerial ladder of GFD Engine 3 and inside the EMS unit being evaluated, equipment was gathered and units began to clear the scene. All this was done with slow, deliberate movements to ensure the safety of all on the scene, especially on the ladders.”
Shelton, also administrative chief of the Greeneville Fire Department, said that the GFD recently did a refresher for all shifts on basic rope skills, “some of which were used for this rescue.”
The Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department also trains regularly on basic rope rescue systems, he said.
“The ladders are a common tool that each department had training drills on in the last few months. It goes without saying that we probably never thought our training would be towards a person in a tree that these skills would be put to the test, but because training has a high priority in the departments and all worked as a team that day, Mrs. Smith was able to have a positive outcome,” Shelton said.
Saturday’s scenario “was not your everyday response,” Shelton said.
“The networking of departments where we train together and have been able to know each other ahead of time plays a huge role in us working as a team when the call comes in,” he said.
Shelton said that dispatchers, medical professionals, law enforcement personnel, firefighters from volunteer and career departments, along with friends and family, all did their part to get Smith safely to the ground.
“No issues of boundaries, egos, or job disciplines came in the way of a common goal, to safely and efficiently perform the rescue.,” Shelton said. “Working together has proven this point time and time again for us. Usually in fire-related emergencies, but it applied to this rescue also.”
Shelton encourages departments “to train and build relationships when no crisis exists.”
Despite some scary moments for Smith and her family, she looked back Monday on her arboreal mishap in good humor.
“You can imagine the fun the neighbors had when everybody showed up,” Smith joked. “There was no alcohol and no drugs involved. I was not feeling good.”
Neighbors were concerned there was a fire and just wanted to help, she said.
Most of all, Smith is thankful for the work of skilled first responders to save her.
“I am very grateful for the outcome,” she said. “I think I am retiring from my tree climbing days and will be partaking in tree trimming from the ground.”