Franklin man drowns at Big Shoals

Franklin man Joseph Orr, 25, drowned at Big Shoals off Walking Stick Road on Saturday despite the efforts of Good Samaritans who tried to help.

Joseph Orr, 25, was a firefighter at Clarks Chapel Fire and Rescue. Photo courtesy of CCFR

Big Shoals is an approximately 20-foot waterfall along Big Creek that is a popular swimming hole in Macon County.

Highlands Fire & Rescue Captain Roger Lee Wilson arrived on the scene before other rescue units and said bystanders at the falls were able to pull Orr out of the water and an ER nurse on the scene administered CPR on shore, but Orr did not survive.

Big Shoals is an approx. 20-foot waterfall that flows into a popular swimming hole.

Friends who were with Orr told Wilson he just went under the water and did not come back up. The water at the bottom of the falls is deep enough to swim in, but shallow enough to stand in. Wilson said Orr did not appear to have any head injuries.

Friends of Orr visited Big Shoals on the following day and looked on in disbelief.

“He was so strong; he was a boxer, a firefighter, he could take on the world,” said Orr’s friend Mary Elizabeth Reese. “And he was always a gentleman, so kind, and so respectful to his mother. This doesn’t make sense.”

Orr was a firefighter with Clarks Chapel Fire-Rescue. CCFR Chief Trae Perry said Joseph Orr of first came to Clarks Chapel Fire and Rescue about four months ago, and shortly after joined the department.

Joseph Orr on duty with Clarks Chapel Fire and Rescue. Photo courtesy of CCFR

“Joseph was one of those guys who never turned down a challenge, or even gave it a second thought. Joseph was strong as an Ox and equally as determined,” said Perry. “He was passionate about service to his fellow man, and community. He quickly went from our ‘new guy’ to an honored and treasured member of our department family. Joseph never missed an opportunity to help out, train, or respond to calls, and was eager to help in any way that he could. Joseph lived life to the fullest and never missed an opportunity.”

Perry added that he’s thankful to have met Orr.

“As far as my personal thoughts about Joseph, I am extremely thankful that I had the opportunity to get to know Joseph, and grow close enough to him to call him family,” he said. “I am hurt that I missed the opportunity to know him better, and see him grow and develop in the fire service. I’m overwhelmed by the support that the community has shown during this time. I plan to stand strong for his family and perform at our very best in Joseph’s honor.”

After his death, Franklin Fire-Rescue released the following statement.

“Tonight, our hearts are breaking over this tremendous loss. Firefighter Orr was a fast-rising star, burning with a deep desire to help his community. While fairly new to the fire service, he had already shown his brothers and sisters at Clarks Chapel he was all in. His insatiable hunger for knowledge kept him striving to be the best that he could be.”

HFR was dispatched to Big Shoals, a popular swimming hole in Macon County, just before 7 p.m. for a report of a man stuck under the falls and drowning.

According to Macon County Dispatch, the 911 call was made after a female on the scene hiked up to the road where she waved down a passerby and asked them to call.

Members of HFR, Macon County Sheriff’s Office, Franklin EMS, and Glenville-Cashiers Rescue Squad arrived on the scene at approx. 7:30 p.m. The trail leading to the falls is a little over a mile and steep in several areas.

“It’s a pretty-rough area to get in and out of,” said Wilson. “Having Glenville Cashiers helping us made it easier.”

The trail to Big Shoals is steep in several areas and can take time to navigate.

HFR Rescue Lieutenant Travis Brooks said the falls are approximately 20-feet high and did not appear to be a factor in Orr’s death.

The Medical Examiner was on scene but the report wasn’t released by press time.

Pictured at the top of the article are friends of Jospeh Orr’s who wanted to visit the falls after his death.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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