Lessons Learned from a Water Rescue LODD

Five years ago, on May 23, 2015, a fire captain was killed, and another firefighter injured when they were pulled into a storm drain after evacuating a flooded neighborhood.  You can read the full NIOSH LODD Report here.  We will be discussing some of the key points from the report in this blog post.

storm drainSource: NIOSH

What Happened

Heavy rain and thunderstorms caused rapidly rising flood water to trap families in their homes.  Firefighters responded after 2200 hours, and over the course of an hour they rescued 10 civilians including six children from the residences.  The captain was walking back around the neighborhood to report to the incident command post when he stepped into an unmarked catch basin for a storm drain.  During the rescue effort of the captain, another firefighter was pulled into storm drain but was ejected 276 feet away at the end of the drain.  Unfortunately, the captain drowned in the storm drain.

Key Recommendations

First responders must be trained to the appropriate level in water rescue search and rescue operations.  Remember, the NFPA standards identify several different disciplines related to water rescue.  Flood rescue incidents present many dangerous conditions that are not always necessarily present in natural water ways.

One of the dangerous hazards present during flood rescue incidents is differential pressure.  Differential pressure is caused by two bodies of water equalizing (i.e., flood water entering a storm drain).  This differential pressure can develop thousands of pounds of force and must be avoided by first responders operating at flood incidents.  One way to avoid them is to identify the hazard prior to the flooding incident.  If your authority having jurisdiction has performed a thorough hazard analysis and risk assessment, then you may already have some of this information available to you.

Lastly, remember to wear the appropriate PPE at flood rescue incidents.  Dry suits, personal flotation devices (PFDs), and appropriate water rescue helmets, gloves and footwear are incredibly important.  Wearing the correct PPE will give you the best opportunity to survive in this environment and will protect you from hazardous materials contamination that is present in flood water.

Bill Elder
Owner / Lead Instructor
Elder Technical Rescue Services, LLC

Mention this blog post when scheduling our Flood Rescue Awareness (3 hours) or Flood Rescue Skills Development (12 hours) classes and receive a 10% discount.  Contact us to set up a class for your agency.

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