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Awards for Valor

Thursday, July 21, 2022 10:24 AM

Tropical Storm Ida brought intense rains to Upper Bucks County on the evening of September 1st. 

 The levels of streams and creeks rose rapidly and to record levels.  Ditches and small streams became raging rivers, with the speed with which it happened catching much of the public off guard.   Adding to the chaos, the flooding began during a time when many people were still commuting home from work.

Early on, Haycock Fire Company, Station 63, was dispatched to the Sellersville area for a water rescue.  Before reaching the first assignment they were redirected to another call.  The conditions were changing rapidly and for the worse.  Finding passable roadways to reach assignments was extremely challenging, if not impossible in certain areas.   As time went on, and conditions worsened, multiple marine units were dispatched to the Upper Bucks region.  Included in that group was Marine 86.  Command was set up in the area of the Main Street Bridge by Chief 27.

Haycock Fire Company was dispatched to a flooding caused basement collapse in West Rockhill Township.  While on that call, Marine 86 arrived in Sellersville.  At that  time, a call for a water rescue of a father and infant on the bridge in Sellersville was dispatched.  The 63 crew had just become available and were dispatched to the call.  Upon arrival, they were informed that the 86 crew had attempted a rescue on the bridge and in the process, their raft was compromised and a rescue of their crew was necessary.  

In evaluating the situation, it was determined that the 86 crew was comprised of three personnel and two adult males were on the bridge with them.  The father and infant had apparently been rescued prior to this.  Marine 63-1 was dispatched from the north side of the bridge with three water rescue personnel on board.  They reached the bridge without incident.  They worked with the 86 crew to attempt the recovery of Marine 86 which was trapped against a pole by the strong current.  The six rescue personnel worked for approximately 20 minutes to free the raft and secure personnel.  During this time, the water level continued to rise, changing the treacherous conditions.  Marine 63-1 took all of the individuals on board, with a total of 8 persons on board.  The raft was rated for a capacity of 8 adults.  They began to come north on main street under power along the front of Station 27.  The current was evident but manageable.  Going past the fire house, the current became extreme with capping waves and unpredictable conditions.  The raft was suddenly taken by the current downstream past the fire house.  The raft was no longer within the crews' control.  After passing the firehouse, the raft was flipped over, with all eight occupants being tossed into the water.  Due to the heroic efforts of the personnel, they were able to grab all of the occupants and get them into the raft or have them hang on the side.  It was very dark where they were going, so it was extremely fortunate to account for everyone.  

Once back on the raft, or hanging on the side, they came toward the railroad overpass behind Station 27.  The arches are normally 20-25 above the stream.  At the time of this incident, the occupants of the raft had to duck to make it under the bridge.  The bridge had acted like a dam due to the limit of water flow that could pass by.  The raft was violently expelled through the bridge opening into what is normally a woods along the stream.  The raft bounced off numerous trees before the crew was able to tie a rope onto a tree, while members were bailing water with their helmets to try and keep the raft afloat. Those that had been hanging onto the side of the raft were pulled into the raft.  

During all this time, there was no visual or radio communications with Marine 63-1.  Chief 63, who was observing on shore, made Command aware of what had just occurred.  Personnel were trying to locate the unit, but there was no success.  After an extended time, a radio transmission for a Mayday was made by the Marine 63-1 crew.  They were obviously under duress, but were able to describe their approximate location, situation and number of persons on board.  The voice on the radio gave a sense of urgency of all available to locate and rescue them.  

Delaware Valley Marine 48 was dispatched to Sellersville to attempt to rescue the group.  They arrived and their boat was put in the water in front of Station 27.  They went downstream in an attempt to reach Marine 63-1, but were unable to get past the railroad overpass.  They brought their boat back to trailer it and launch at Druckenmiller Park, below the railroad overpass.  They were able to navigate down the road to the sewer plant, which was now under 3-5 feet of water, and through the woods to the creek.  They were able to locate Marine 63-1 and report they were there with all 8 persons accounted for.  They were able to bring the first four persons back to shore, with two of those being those that were originally being rescued.   A second trip out by Marine 48 brought the rescue to an end, with the remaining four persons being accounted for.

The event was challenging not only to the crews in the raft, but also to all those personnel throughout the emergency scenes throughout the area.  The Mayday situation was too real for the eight people involved.  As the Chief of Haycock Fire Company, it was a night I will never forget.  It was heart wrenching watching the event unfold with three of our members at the mercy of nature, especially with one being my son.  I prayed that I would be able to see him alive again that night.

The valor of the 86 and 63 crews was not in doing the rescue as they were trained to do.  The valor can be found in the heroics of making sure each person was accounted for, and taken care of, when their own lives were in jeopardy.  At a time when self-preservation would seem to be a natural reaction, they acted as a team and saved those that were in peril.  I am proud to say that I have the opportunity to work with such fine individuals.  I am even happier to say that my son came home alive that night.

Thank you for your consideration for the six members involved in this event.  Their names are as follows:

·    Michael Stellate (86)

·    Matthew Chirik (86)

·    James Chavous (86)

·    Richard Babb (63)

·    Bryan Eusterbrock (63)

·    Harry Grim, IV (63)