"Roughly 50 percent of drowning deaths originated in a vehicle,” said Jerrod Brown, the dive team leader for the Evansville Fire Department’s water rescue squad. “So, it started with someone who drove into high water or crashed into water."
When a driver gets their car stuck in flooded waters, after heavy rains on the Ohio River, the six members of the Evansville Fire Department’s water rescue team are the ones on the scene -- risking their lives to save others.
"The rescue team is composed of other members too that are trained in dive rescue, high angle rescue, hazardous material,” said Rick Scheller, captain of the water rescue squad. “So, it is a team event."
And while they have the proper safety equipment, including several boats and a suit weighing over 110 lbs, that takes two team members to help put on --
"There's still hidden dangers -- manhole covers -- that when you have floods -- potential manhole covers that get floated and get blown off their hole,” Brown said. “And as we approach a vehicle, or a victim trying to get on their own -- could potentially be in one of those -- you don't see those because they are sub-surface -- so it could be an immediate drowning hazard at that point."
Now during the summer -- the water rescue team often receives many distress calls -- from people trapped out in the water. So, as boating season approaches -- make sure you have a full tank of gas -- as well as that life jacket.
"The water absorbs heat 25 times faster in ambient air,” Brown said. “So, if you're body temperature -- if the water is 40/50 degrees the way it is right now -- it could dramatically drop your body temperature rather quickly and could lead to hypothermia."
Firefighters say there are also several hot spots for flooding in the area drivers should avoid.
"On Virginia Street -- we have an area there that floods,” Scheller said. “Ray Becker Parkway -- part of Diamond Ave -- underneath the over passes -- they are problematic for us."
And they ask those who drive in the rain to remain cautious.
"As they always say, ‘Turn around -- don't drown,’” Brown said. “If you happen to witness someone that has -- of course call 911-- but the best option is to not go after them."
"I know it's inviting to get out in their canoes and kayaks and paddle around,” Scheller said. “There's a lot of hidden dangers -- even in standing flood water they may not be able to see."
And while the job is tough, members of the water rescue squad say it is worth it.
"It's another challenge, the job is full of challenges,” Brown said. “And diving is both exciting -- challenging - rewarding."
For anyone interested in joining the Evansville Fire Department, they are taking applications until the end of April.