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Trimmer Stuck in Tree Is Freed

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a theatrical twist of the cat caught in the tree, more than 20 firefighters rescued a tree trimmer Friday after he became entangled in heavy palm fronds near the top of a 40-foot tree.

As a crowd drawn by his haunting cries shouted encouragement, tree trimmer Julio Gonzales dangled for nearly an hour before firefighters put a ladder up the tree, cut away the thorny branches and brought him down, shaken but not seriously hurt. Gonzales, 24, who apparently spoke only Spanish, was taken to Encino Hospital after the 9:30 a.m. incident in the 16700 block of Magnolia Boulevard.

Officials said Gonzales complained of back pain and was kept for observation after X-rays were taken.

Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said Gonzales apparently hung for nearly an hour--suspended for a short time upside-down--before firefighters arrived. Workers closed the block to traffic while the rescue took place.

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“He had apparently shimmied up the tree with a chain and had been snipping palm fronds when a few large fronds fell against him, pinning him backwards against the tree,” Humphrey said. “Witnesses said the man was barely visible, that you had to look up the base of the tree just to see him.”

Fearful that high winds might dislodge Gonzales, who was thought to be near electrical wires, the Fire Department dispatched more than 20 firefighters, including members of the Urban Search and Rescue Team.

“We didn’t want him to be blown out of the tree or onto the wires,” Humphrey said.

Later Friday, the yard of the one-story home remained littered with fronds. The owners were apparently away when the mishap occurred.

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Neighbor Lorri Kaufman said she heard Gonzales yelling for help about 9:30 a.m. as a small crowd gathered at the base of the tree. “At first I thought it was a cat,” she said. “It was a real distress call.”

She said the man was visible from the shoulders up, but otherwise covered with palm branches.

“We all stood there telling him to hold on, that everything was going to be OK,” she said. “Someone spoke Spanish to him and that seemed to calm him down.”

Said neighbor Steven Boxer: “I was surprised that the guy was up in the tree without a ladder or a cherry-picker. All he had was that chain to keep him secured.”

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Kaufman said one of the fronds fell into her yard the day before. “They’re heavy,” she said. “They could easily kill you if they fell on you. Or pin you against the tree.”

Although it was unclear whether the independent trimmer had any assistants on the scene at the time, Humphrey said such jobs are dangerous work and should never be done alone.

“That’s one of cardinal rules, ‘Don’t trim trees by yourself,’ ” he said. “Whether you’re 40 feet above ground or 40 below water, take somebody with you for emergencies just like this one.”


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