It was the most terrifying day of Cobb County Firefighter Rusty Brown’s career.
“I was terrified, absolutely terrified,” Brown said. “We saw him in the waterfalls, and all I could think of was ‘oh my gosh, this is way more intense than what I was expecting it to be.”
Brown, a firefighter since 2006, is also trained in swift water rescue and was the Technical Rescue Squad member called to help after an accident at High Falls State Park on Tuesday.
“It was the luck of the draw, my time to go up,” Brown told 11Alive.
During an initial flyover of the scene, the crew recognized that one of the brothers had already passed away.
“But we saw the older child up in the river…pretty much in the waterfall,” Brown said. “We decided what we were going to do was use the quick trop and hook to him and get him out of there.”
The mission was treacherous for the rescuers.
“Being in the waterfall where James was, there’s nothing you can do but just hold onto hope. I was terrified myself,” Brown said. Yet, the crew’s motto is “Risk a lot, save a lot,” and there was no alternative but to move forward despite the rushing water.
“It swept us out one time and I know we got tangled up in the ropes,” Brown said. “It was around my head and around my neck, and I ended up getting tangled up in the ropes. Well I got that free, and then I clipped him to my harness…and we both got swept downstairs and were underwater for two or three seconds.”
Brown was able to pull the 17-year-old to safely, but the close call rattled the rescuer.
“We’re real people as well, we’re not just some superheroes sweeping in and saving the day. I myself almost drowned that day,” he added. "I felt like God was holding that rope and pushed us right to where we needed to be."
Brown said he still wishes he could have done more.
“I just want to let the parents know how sorry I am that we couldn’t get both the kids out of there,” Brown told 11Alive. “We did try everything we could."