Boone County, MO, Assistant Fire Chief 'Died a Hero' During Swift Water Rescue

July 9, 2024
While rescuing two people from a raging creek, Boone County Assistant Fire Chief Matt Tobben drowned after his rescue boat overturned.

Mike Stunson

Merced Sun-Star (Merced, Calif.)


The assistant chief for a fire department in Missouri drowned during a rescue in surging floodwaters, officials say.

Matthew Tobben, the Boone County Fire Protection District assistant chief, was assisting the Columbia Fire Department during a “swift water operation” Monday, July 8, firefighters said.

The crew had already rescued two people when their boat overturned, tossing Tobben into the water, according to fire chief Scott Olsen.

Olsen said Tobben then drowned in the flooded Bear Creek.

“Firefighters regularly risk their lives to save others. Tragically, sometimes it costs them their lives,” the Missouri Division of Fire Safety said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “@BooneCountyFire Assistant Chief Matt Tobben died a hero this morning as he made the ultimate sacrifice attempting a rescue in treacherous floodwater.”

It’s unclear why the rescue boat capsized, firefighters told the Columbia Daily Tribune. It’s possible the boat struck debris after it lost power, the news outlet reported.

Olsen said the Columbia firefighter on the boat and two victims who had been rescued were both “doing OK.”

An inch of rain fell Monday morning in Columbia, KMIZ reported, leading to flooded roads and several more water rescues.

The Mid-Missouri Sheriff’s Dive Team called Tobben’s death “a tragedy (that) could have been avoided.”

“Flash floods are nothing to mess around with. Unfortunately it has taken one of our assistant chiefs this morning,” Gale Blomenkamp with the fire protection district said, the Daily Tribune reported. “It’s a big hit to the community and the fire service, but we could not have had a more highly trained individual than Matt Tobben was for this type of situation. We had the best of the best out there, but unfortunately tragedy struck.”

Tobben previously was a firefighter for the Union Fire Protection District in Union, Missouri, according to his Linkedin. A graduate of Ashford University, Tobben worked for the Boone County Fire Protection District for 12 years.

He was listed on the department’s website as its director of training.

City and state leaders, including Columbia Mayor Barbara Buffaloe and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, sent their condolences. Buffalo said she was “deeply saddened” by the death of Tobben, who she said lost his life “heroically.”

I’m deeply saddened by the loss of Assistant Chief Matt Tobben from @BooneCountyFire , who heroically lost his life during a water-related rescue effort on Monday morning.

My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and fellow firefighters during this difficult time.

— Mayor Barbara Buffaloe (@BarbaraBuffaloe) July 8, 2024

Claudia and I extend our heartfelt condolences to the family of Boone County Fire Protection District Assistant Chief Mathew Tobben, who lost his life during a swift water rescue operation this morning. Our prayers are with Chief Tobben’s family, friends, and fellow first responders.

(c)2024 the Merced Sun-Star (Merced, Calif.)

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