CARTER COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Northeast Tennessee is stocked with beautiful waterfalls that draw crowds to sightsee or even swim around, but every summer, emergency responders are called out to rescue people who get injured at the falls.

As recently as May 2022, the Carter County Rescue Squad assisted in a drowning turned recovery at Elk River Falls just across the state line into North Carolina.

According to the Carter County Rescue Squad, they typically respond to seven to 10 waterfall rescues a summer. While most injuries at local waterfalls are minor, the efforts to carry someone out can take hours of work by many emergency responders.

“We have a lot of injuries associated with slips and falls; that’s probably the primary injury that we see around the waterfalls,” said James Heaton with the Carter County Rescue Squad. “A lot of times, people also will underestimate their ability to hike into these waterfalls, not realizing how tough the terrain and the trails are going in and out of the waterfalls.”

According to Heaton, many people hike to the falls in improper footwear and clothing. John Burleson, the rescue coordinator, added that people need to be prepared with supplies, even for a short hike because it could last longer.

“Make sure that you have a proper backpack, make sure you have snacks, make sure you have extra clothing, especially if you’re going to go swimming,” said Burleson. “Make sure you have lights and medicine if you need medicines.”

Burleson said it is important to carry a proper flashlight and to not depend on a cellphone for light because that can drain the battery in 20 minutes.

Many waterfalls are in remote areas without cell phone service, which can increase the response time exponentially in the case of an emergency.

“If you go to the Compression Falls, we’ll get the call… and it’s going to take us an hour just to get to the parking lot,” said Burleson. “That’s not going down to the falls. That’s just to the parking lot.”

Burleson said it will take an additional time to hike to Compression Falls and back out, then an additional hour back to the hospital. Carrying out an individual also poses difficulties.

“It’s a very manpower-intensive exercise,” said Heaton. “Very steep, tough terrain, just very hard to evacuate somebody from these waterfalls…. you’re probably looking at 10 or 15 people just to carry them and out of here and to an ambulance up at the top”

Even the short hike down to Blue Hole can turn into a much longer and more complicated trek if someone is unable to walk themselves out. Burleson said that can involve setting up a rope system to help carry the load.

Rescue squad members said it is important to leave an itinerary with another person, so if the people hiking don’t return by a certain time, they know to call for help.