Nick Kiniski honored for harrowing ocean-side rescue


Nick Kiniski, second from left, along with other honorees at the U.S. Coast Guard ceremony recognizing their efforts in saving a woman who had fallen down a cliff. Kiniski praised the efforts of his EMT team, saying it was a team accomplishment that allowed the woman to survive and recover from her injuries. Photo courtesy of USCG

By Pat Grubb

Orcas Island Fire and Rescue battalion chief Nick Kiniski was honored at a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) awards ceremony for his part in the 2018 rescue and resuscitation of a critically injured woman who fell approximately 100 feet down a steep embankment on Obstruction Island, landing on the rocks below.

As crowds awaited the fireworks to begin on Orcas Island on the 4th of July, Kiniski and his crew were dispatched to the incident on the neighboring island. The beach was inaccessible by vehicle and required a boat to reach the victim. Difficulty in reaching the patient was only the beginning of a complicated resuscitation and rescue.

Kiniski and his team arrived to find a critically injured patient lying on a boulder surrounded by water. Standing ankle-deep in the ocean, Kiniski began treating the woman. Lack of proper lighting, poor radio and spotty cell phone reception, a rising tide, obtaining the necessary medical equipment, and keeping the patient safe were some of the challenging factors in coordinating the over four-and-a-half hour-long rescue.

In order to evacuate the patient, the USCG deployed a rescue helicopter which was faced with the added challenge of maneuvering into position above the patient, among trees extending 150 feet above the rocky cliff, and just five feet off the nose of the chopper. Kiniski said it looked like the helicopter blades were hitting the foliage above him, describing it as a nerve-racking sound. A rescue swimmer and a basket was lowered down to the rocks to retrieve the patient. Due to the patient’s condition, Kiniski continued to attend to the patient as they were both hoisted into the helicopter and transported to a nearby trauma center. Upon arrival, the trauma team discovered that the patient had a head bleed, broken neck, back, ribs, pelvis, femur and ankle; two punctured lungs, torn aorta, and lacerations to her liver and spleen.

Thanks to the diligent care provided by Kiniski and his team, along with the combined efforts of all involved, the patient made a full recovery.

In recognition of the outstanding response, the USCG received two heroic badges – honoring Kinski for his part, and San Juan County Dispatch received 2019 Washington State Telecommunicator Team of the Year Award from the Washington Chapter of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials and the National Emergency Number Association.

To view a video of the patient and Kiniski being hoisted up to the rescue helicopter, go to

A screen grab of the USCG video showing Nick Kiniski and the injured woman being hoisted from the rocks to the rescue helicopter. Courtesy of USCG

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.