The men honored for heroism at the on Thursday () all say that they were just doing their jobs.
And they were, in fact, doing what they are trained to do. It’s just that these are not their day jobs, and they are not paid for doing this work.
And, oh yeah, this kind of work can get them killed in an instant. The dangers inherent in firefighting or water rescue are rarely witnessed, though since 9/11, we have certainly (deservedly so) heard about them.
Fires occasionally get caught on TV news videotape, but only from a distance. The interior scenes can only be imagined by filmmakers. Water rescue is much rarer.
So it was fascinating to read the incident report offered to us by those honoring the men who responded to a Haverford man trapped in—and then on top of—his vehicle back in September, when Mill Creek flood waters raged around him at 2 a.m.
"Caller exiting the vehicle via window to the roof ... caller stating torrent of water around him—still rising rapidly.”—Dispatcher to Merion Fire Co. volunteers, 2 a.m., Sept. 8, 2011
The report reflects a harrowing 20 minutes of communications between the man, central dispatch, and the volunteers—who this night were fighting water, not fire. The flooding, fast-moving creek waters, conspiring with the dark, proved just as formidable a foe as any quick-moving blaze.
Here's a run-down of that report:
At 1:54 a.m., the SUV, a Toyota Highlander, was reported disabled and in the middle of the roadway, with water “past the bumper” and then “coming into the vehicle.”
At 1:55, the caller (from the SUV) was “stating his vehicle is starting to bob up and down.” At 1:56, as “water is close to getting to the caller’s seat,” word followed that “caller is going to get out on the roof of the vehicle soon” due to rapidly rising waters.
At this moment, more than a dozen Lower Merion fire company volunteers were rushing to the scene; many would turn back, unable to pass through an unbelievably high amount of water on what are normally dry roadways.
At 1:58, it was reported that “water outside of the vehicle is now above the hood of the SUV.” One fire fighter called in to say that “conditions are bad” and that he would “stop and ride out” with other station members.
At 2 p.m., “water in the vehicle is eight inches from driver door window level,” and “all streets in area of Mill Creek are flooding.”
And this: “Caller exiting the vehicle—via window to the roof at this time.”
By 2:01, the caller was reported on the roof of his bobbing vehicle, but “caller stating torrent of water around him—still rising rapidly.”
At 2:03—two minutes that must have seemed an eternity to the trapped man—a responder reported that “Youngsford [Road] now flooded—can’t get through,” and “looking for a way around.”
Dispatch: “Caller knows how to swim.” It’s impossible to tell, but those five words, whether they were offered up by the driver on his own or asked by the dispatcher, likely meant a good weight off the minds of the rescuers—they at least had one positive piece of information as they headed into the rushing current.
Even better, at 2:05, “caller sees the water is less and is moving less quick in the front of his vehicle.” If ever there was a real-life definition of “flash flood,” this was surely it. At 2:01, water was still “rising rapidly,” but only four minutes later, it was receding, if only a little.
Dispatch then reported that the front of the Highlander was facing Old Gulph Road, but a responder called in to say he “cannot get to Mill Creek from Grays Lane.” Still at 2:05, another rescuer asked dispatch to ask the caller “if he is near the 1690 House” (a reference to the oldest structure standing in Lower Merion Township, built by millwright John Roberts). But the caller was “not familiar” with the 1690 House, dispatch replied, a minute later.
At 2:07, the caller reported “possible” flashing lights visible, and then confirmed a vehicle “backing up to his rear”—help had arrived.
At 2:08, a responder told dispatch he “will be off radio,” but the next entry in the incident report reported a problem: “Caller stating responders appear to be approaching from a bad direction—responders coming toward him where it is most rapid.”
At 2:09, the responder who asked about the 1690 House reports: “We have eyes on him and [Unit] 24 is going in service.”
Dispatch, at 2:11: “No longer on the line with caller,” and “He will be listening to voice instructions for on-scene responders.”
Rescuer, at 2:12: “Old Gulph at Mill Creek Road is covered in rocks,” and “the road is starting to wash out.”
The responder who reported seeing the man (at 2:09), said, at 2:13: “Do have eyes on him, [fire department] backing their way to him with rope and harness.”
A few more minutes passed, with only another entry confirming the roadway washing out.
And then, at 2:16 a.m., only 22 minutes after the initial emergency, came this call: “Subject was rescued, check with fire department to see if subject needs EMS.”
Responder, at 2:17: “Rescue complete.”
Responder, at 2:17: “Subject does not need EMS.”
Again, these are volunteers—six among 45 “who respond to over 350 calls a year without any compensation for their time and efforts,” as their citation reads. (One of the seven honored is from the Gladwyne Fire Co.)
They got up from their beds in the middle of a perfectly miserable night and saved a life.
Then they went home and tried to go back to sleep, just to wake up the next day, ready to do it again if called.
Ed Lo, the Haverford gentleman in the SUV, has thanked his rescuers for their work that particular night (and was present at the ceremony Thursday).
But for their dedication and willingness to be there for everyone else in this neck of the woods—should they (or you, or me) get caught in a burning building or a flooding car—let me speak for us all by saying it again.
Thank you for what you do.