Capt. Rich Halligan, left, and Firefighter Blaine Porter
Photo credit: Coeur d'Alene Fire Department
A water rescue in Idaho last year forced firefighters to think outside the box in order to save the life of a 1-year-old girl.
Coeur d'Alene Capt. Rich Halligan, Firefighter Blaine Porter and Engineer Matt Tosi and from Engine 323 were dispatched to a call for a SUV that rolled off an embankment into a lake with reports of people trapped.
While the call was in an area covered by Kootenai County Fire and Rescue, the crew was requested for mutual aid because of the proximity of their station to the location.
Since they knew they were going to a call for a vehicle in the water, they responding in their station uniforms and discussed what they would do when they got there.
Halligan told Tosi to get lines ready and handle coordinating rescue efforts on the shore. Porter told him he was decent swimmer and since both of them were certified divers, they decided to go in after the possible victims.
They took off their boots, emptied their pockets of their radios and other items and jumped in.
There were already two police officers in the water surveying the scene.
The two firefighters swam about 20 to 25 feet out to the submerged vehicle.
"You could see the taillight and treading the water you could touch a part of it," Halligan said. "The shallowest part was about five feet down and rest was deeper than that."
Due to poor visibility and depth the two men couldn't stay down long enough to find a door after making several attempts. That's when Porter called out that the vehicle was moving down into deeper waters.
"The car settled or moved and we lost sight of it," Halligan said. "We could no longer feel it while treading water. We were pretty frustrated. We had no mask, snorkel or fins."
That's when Porter suggested they go back for their SCBA packs and use the masks to better see under the water.
While they were ashore, Porter thought "Let's grab the whole thing."
He had some experience taking SCBAs into the water with the military while working with Virginia Task Force 2, but little did he know they were about to take that training a step further.
Halligan said that a few years prior, the department trained with the air pack in water in case they fell off a dock, but were never submerged with them.
The two men suited and went back out with taglines attached to them.
Porter spotted the car when they were about 10 to 20 feet apart from each other.
"I could see his rope going down under the water with a waterstream coming up. I didn't know what to expect but it seemed to be functioning fine," Halligan said. "My first concern was that he wasn't in trouble."
Porter said that he didn't expect to have to go that far under with the mask on at first, but knew he had little time to make the rescue.
"On the way down I was just checking my breathing," he said. "Looking back on it, we didn't know if they were functioning correctly, but it was working well enough that I was able to have enough air where I could breathe down there."
Halligan went down under behind Porter in case he got in trouble.
Porter reached the front passenger window that was rolled down and was able to pry open the back door.
He was able to remove the boy and then Halligan grabbed him while he was still under the water and then went back in for the girl and was able to manipulate the car seat she was in and pull her out.
As Porter and the girl surfaced, Halligan was coming back across the lake. They brought the girl to the shore where paramedics took her.
As they sat on the edge of the lake, Halligan looked at Porter and said "Good job, good job."
He then shed his gear before helping with the resuscitation of the girl.
"I've been in EMS for around 30 years, and this was the most time-critical rescue I've been involved in," he said.
They both sat on the edge of the lake to catch their breath before Halligan shed his gear to help with the resuscitation of the girl.
That girl, River Deshazer, survived the ordeal, but her 5-year-old brother, Evan, unfortunately did not.
"I'm very happy, don't get me wrong," Porter said. "I'm glad that the little girl is doing so well, but I wish we were able to do more to save the boy."
Halligan said that as with every death that occurs during a response, it's not something that firefighters should dwell on.
"You're happy you're able to save one," he said. "You just do your best and save the ones that work out and have to deal with the ones that don't.
"It sure would have been nice to save them both, but it wasn't in the cards."
Both men credited their training and planning with being able to successfully rescue the girl.
"Have a plan in case things go bad," Halligan said. "When we went back out we had the taglines. My big concern was that the SCBA is an entirely different set up to SCUBA. If you fill the mask with water you could drown.
"The first thing I thought is what do we do if we flood the mask. As the whole thing was evolving, I was thinking 'How do I get Blaine out of trouble if he gets in trouble.' "
Porter said that having an alternative plan is vital.
"Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. Always have a back up and have a back up to a back up. Always think ahead," he said. "Don't be afraid to think outside of the box, because it just might work."
Both men were quick to point out that despite all of the recognition they have recived for the rescue, it was a team effort.
"The big thing is that the whole team did it," Porter said. "We don't do anything solo. Everybody on that team really pulled together and did everything that needed to be done that day.