An opening quote in a Free Lance-Star article on September 18, 2011, by rescued Colonial Beach Volunteer Firefighter Jim Jett, sets the stage for a heroic event that will never be forgotten by the rescuers or the victims: "Forget about being macho; I have never been so scared in my life."
On September 8, 2011, at 11:13 pm, the Chesterfield (Va.) Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services (Department of Fire and EMS) answered a statewide mutual-aid request to respond their SCUBA Rescue Team to Westmoreland County due to severe flooding conditions in the jurisdiction from Tropical Storm Lee.
The Department of Fire and EMS accepted the request and SCUBA rescue team members Capt. Gerald Pruden from the Training and Education Unit and Lieutenant Joel Britt, Firefighter Bryce Ford and Firefighter Gene Ledlie from Fire/Rescue Station 14 immediately responded. These members traveled to Westmoreland County with SCUBA Rescue 214 and SCUBA Rescue Boat 14, traveling two hours through heavy rains, fallen trees and flooded roads to reach their destination.
They arrived at the Oak Grove Volunteer Fire Department, Station #4, in Westmoreland County at 1:15 am on September 9 and were immediately asked by Colonial Beach (Va.) Fire Department to help in the rescue of a firefighter, an emergency medical technician and a citizen—all in grave and eminent danger.
The Colonial Beach department had responded to an incident for an individual in the water. On arriving, a member of the fire department, as well as a member of the Westmoreland Rescue Squad, entered the rain-swollen creek to facilitate the rescue of a citizen. Due to rapidly deteriorating conditions, the two members with the citizen were swept away by the floodwaters.
When Chesterfield's SCUBA rescue team arrived, the three individuals had been in the swift-moving floodwaters for over an hour and a half, each clinging to small bamboo trees, and separated from each other and more than 75 feet from the shoreline.
SCUBA Boat 14 was immediately launched to make the rescues, with Ledlie driving the rescue boat and Ford and Britt positioned in the boat's bow to begin the rescue operations; Pruden directed the SCUBA rescue operations from the shore.
The boat was maneuvered in the flooding waters as close to the first victim, the civilian, as possible, but due to the trees, Britt had to enter the floodwaters and swim against the flooding current to reach her. Britt stabilized himself against a tree with one hand and helped the victim with placement of a personal flotation device with the other hand. Once the personal flotation device was in place, Britt swam the victim to SCUBA Boat 14, where Ford helped get her into the boat.
Ford handed Britt another personal flotation device and he made his way through the floodwaters to the second victim, a volunteer firefighter. Upon reaching the firefighter, who was still wearing his turnout coat, Britt tried to help remove the heavy coat from the firefighter, so he could get the personal flotation device on the victim, but the flood conditions and rushing waters made this impossible. With time being critical, Britt made the decision to swim the victim back to the boat, where Ford helped bring the firefighter victim into the boat and immediately placed a personal flotation device on him.
By this time, the motor on the boat was beginning to lose power, adding another dimension to an already critical situation: there was still one more victim in the water. Critical thinking and falling back on extensive training helped remedy the situation.
While two of the team members quickly steadied the boat on a tree in the waterway, boat operator Ledlie pulled the motor from the water and cleared storm debris that had been pulled into the jet drive, causing the motor to lose power. The situation was remedied and the rescue efforts continued.
With all SCUBA team members and two of the three victims in the boat, Ledlie maneuvered the boat through the floodwaters to a position where the third victim, an EMT, could be pulled safely into the boat. A personal flotation device was placed on the third victim and all three were transported to shore and handed off to a waiting medic unit for treatment.
The final quote in The Free Lance-Star article sums up the successful night: "It's amazing when you think about what they did to rescue me," Jett said. "I never would have made it without these guys."
If you were to talk to the four brave members from the Chesterfield Fire and EMS SCUBA Rescue Team, they would humbly state "they were simply doing their job." In reality, on this harrowing night, "Doing their Job" resulted in preventing two line-of-duty deaths and saving the life of a civilian. The entire Chesterfield, County Department of Fire and EMS, as well as the citizens of our community, are extremely proud of these four brave members.
Chief Edward "Loy" Senter submitted this Valor Award nomination.