Firefighter Trapped: Water/Dive Rescue Emergency

This continues our discussion of an incident involving the Baltimore City Fire Department (BCFD). As I noted last month, this close call provides loads of valuable information from which we all can learn, especially those of us who respond to water...


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The team also uses the Kirby Morgan EXO Mask. This mask is selected for rapid water entry for rescue. It can be operated on SCUBA tanks or surface-supplied air and provides communications. The air cylinders are 80 cubic feet and attached to an HMO diving harness. The harness provides lift and buoyancy for the diver. The diver also carries an extra air supply for emergency. It is a 30-cubic-foot air cylinder referred to as a “bailout bottle.” This device is used when the diver’s air supply is interrupted, providing a limited amount of air.

Experience and training

Dive supervisor (team leader) – Captain with 16 years of fire service, 13 years of dive experience and certifications in Advance Open Water, Dive Rescue I and Dry Suit

Primary diver – Emergency vehicle driver with eight years of fire service, 14 years of dive experience and certifications in Open Water, Rescue III International, Dive Rescue I, Dry Suit and Advanced Open Water

Safety diver – Captain with 28 years of fire service, five years of dive experience and certifications in Advanced Open Water, Dive Rescue I and Dry Suit

Primary diver’s tender – Emergency vehicle driver with 10 years of fire service, five years of dive experience and certification in Open Water Diver

Safety diver’s tender – Emergency vehicle driver, 11 years of fire service, five years of dive experience and certification in Advanced Open Water Diver

Safety diver 90% – Pump operator with 10 years of fire service, one year of dive experience and certification in Open Water Diver

 

Triadelphia Reservoir

The Triadelphia Reservoir, also called Tridelphia Lake, is on the Patuxent River in Howard and Montgomery counties, near Brookeville. The reservoir was created in 1943 by the construction of the Brighton Dam on the Patuxent. It has a surface area of 800 acres and average water depth of 52 feet. The reservoir is maintained as a drinking-water source by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which provides public recreational facilities on portions of the Triadelphia property.

The weather the day of the incident featured a high temperature of 60 degrees, low winds and relatively high humidity with good visibility.

 

Sequence of events

On Dec. 4, 2011, the BCFD was asked by the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department to help search for a missing boater. The boater was a WSSC employee who was presumed drowned based on information and evidence at the reservoir. Three members of the BCFD Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) arrived at the reservoir and conducted sonar operations. They discovered several targets on the reservoir bottom. That evening, a member of the USAR Team, who also is the BCFD Dive Rescue Team leader, contacted five members of the dive team. He ordered them to assemble the following morning at Steadman Station, which houses the fire department’s Special Operations Units. The team arrived at 6 A.M. on Dec. 5. A briefing was held between the divers and team leader. The team was instructed to collect all equipment needed for the operations. All equipment was assembled and inspected, including turning on all air bottles (critical action), including the diver’s bailout bottles. The team departed for the reservoir.

The team arrived at the reservoir at 7 A.M. The two members of the USAR team had arrived at the reservoir at 6:30. They set up sonar operations and marked the targets identified the previous day. A briefing took place to include all agencies with the exception of the sonar team, which departed to search for the targets. The dive team collected all equipment that was identified and inspected it for the dive. The site was in an isolated area accessible only by boat. At this point, there was a lack of communication between unified command, the sonar team and the dive team. After an extended period, the sonar team contacted the dive team leader by cell phone inquiring about its status. The USAR member informed the dive team leader they had been waiting for an extended period for the dive team. At this point, there seemed to be an urgency to get the equipment to the site. In the rush to start the operation, equipment was left on the departure site and they had to return and retrieve the items.