Benner Falls at Codornices Park in Berkeley. Photo: Dan Brekke

Berkeley firefighters used a pulley system to lower a stretcher down a steep embankment to rescue a man in his 70s who slipped and fell near the waterfall at Codornices Park on Thursday evening, authorities report.

The man’s wife called 911 for help just before 6:40 p.m. Thursday, authorities said. She told the emergency dispatcher her husband had fallen down the ravine into the creek. It’s a distance of about 20-30 feet, according to the Berkeley Fire Department. The man was taken to Highland Hospital in Oakland with major injuries. His city of residence was not immediately available.

Assistant Berkeley Fire Chief Keith May said the couple had been hiking when the man fell near the waterfall, which is up a narrow trail at the north end of North Berkeley’s Codornices Park.

Many people don’t know about Benner Falls, which requires walking through private property to view. (Owners have historically allowed that access, as described in numerous media reports and blogs about the trail online.)

According to radio traffic reviewed by Berkeleyside, two good Samaritans stopped to help the man after the fall. They held the man’s head and kept him steady as they waited for firefighters to reach them. One of those people was a dog walker who happened to be in the area, a local resident told Berkeleyside. She said the man had fallen off a bridge and sustained a “massive head wound.”

Firefighters ultimately lowered a Stokes basket, a stretcher widely used in search and rescue operations, into the ravine using a pulley system to get the man up the embankment, May said. Some of the firefighters set up the pulley system for the “high-angle” rescue with ropes, harnesses and carabiners, he said, while others went down into the canyon to address the man’s injuries.

The pulley system requires an anchor point, May said, which was tough to find on the narrow trail. He said firefighters had to manufacture an anchor point to get the system to work.

According to radio traffic reviewed by Berkeleyside, firefighters also noted that the light was fading in the canyon as the sun went down. They called for flashlights so they would be prepared in case it got too dark to see.

Once firefighters got the man up to the road, May said, they put him in an ambulance and took him “Code 3” to Highland — using lights and sirens.

May said Friday he didn’t have exact figures for how often the Berkeley Fire Department gets called for rescue operations in hard-to-reach areas but, “it happens enough,” he said.

“We have all the gear and the training to put that info effect if we need it,” he said.

Those calls come in more often from Grizzly Peak, such as when cars go over the embankment, or in Tilden Regional Park and on UC Berkeley hiking trails, he said.

Speaking generally, May urged hikers to be careful, wear appropriate clothing, know the areas they are exploring and avoid traveling alone. He noted that conditions may be wetter in the morning or evening due to dew on rocks or moss.

“Be careful at different times of day or during different seasons,” he said. “If it’s rained, now there’s mud, or there may be a little bit more water on the ground.”

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...