Saturday, April 9, 2016

Steve Kotch's AAR (After Action Report)

I asked veteran Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge Champion Steve Kotch of the Little Rock FD to tell in his own words, the account of the swift water rescue in which he recently participated. His riveting account is below:
Captain Steve Kotch, Little Rock FD doing his last career hydrant check

I am writing this after-action report of the Boyle Park water rescue (Incident #2016-07059) on March 30th with E-14 A shift as an informal review. My hope is to explain what transpired, what could be done differently given a similar situation, and what demands our profession places on all of us.

We were instructed by BC-11 to lock the Boyle Park gates, but were delayed by rescue runs. We were finishing locking the east gate and boarding E-14, when dispatch advised us that they had just received a 911 call for a stranded vehicle on the west side of the Boyle Park low-water bridge. We responded via Boyle Park, 36th St, and 28th St. Upon arrival, we located a white SUV about 150 feet from the west gate on the bridge. I called for a water rescue response and were then notified that the mother had her two-year-old son in the vehicle with her.

I decided to position E-14 inside the gate to be used as an anchor point to attempt to reach the vehicle to remove the two victims. Because of the heavy rain and being called out on rescues, we were wearing turnouts, helmets and boots. As we were getting the harness and PFD on me, I knew that the turnouts may not be a good idea as also mentioned by my engineer. But my thinking was the water was not that high yet and the weight of my boots and wet pants might keep me better weighted down as I rescued the victims.

I made my way to the SUV with an extra PFD and was tethered with a lifeline. After getting to the SUV, I explained to the mother what we were going to do and that more help was on the way. After placing the PFD on her two-year old son and making sure it was secure, I removed him from the vehicle and, with the assistance of my crew, returned to E-14. I handed the child off to my crew and I considered getting out of my turnouts, but decided that it would take too much time to unharness, remove them, replace the harness and lifeline, considering the pending volume of water headed to our location from the north.

I returned to the SUV with the female and placed a PFD on her, making sure that it was secured. I then assured her that her son was safe and out of the water and that she would soon be reunited with him. I also explained to her that we had more help on the way and that I would not leave her. I explained to her what we were going to need to do if the vehicle started to move. I had her roll the drivers side rear window down, I then moved the car seat out of the way. Then I laid the drivers set back in a fully reclined position. She was not sure if she would fit through the window, but I assured her that if the vehicle started to move, that I would pull her through the window. By this time, the water was above my waist and WR21 was loading up on the east side of the park to re-position to the west side. It was then that the vehicle started to move, being pulled off the bridge. As I pulled the female out through the window the vehicle was swept off the bridge. We then began the walk to E-14, but I could feel the current pulling us to the south. I fell twice, but with the assistance of my crew, two LRPD officers and WR21, we were pulled to safety. R-2 was deployed down
stream with throw lines in support.

Given a similar situation, I would do some things differently. I would carry my shoes with me on the apparatus and would avoid wearing my turnouts, helmet or boots into swift water. I would communicate more information on the radio if possible. I would reduce the amount of time to remove the second victim with more focused and aggressive action.

I am extremely grateful for all the help I had at this incident. I had so much racing through my mind and thoughts as we were preparing me to go to the vehicle that I was almost being pulled to it. Although this was not my shift or company, I am glad I was able to contribute to this important rescue. This was truly a team effort and everyone involved made the outcome, a positive one.

The LRFD is well trained, but I realize that there is always more we can do. We spend a lot of time in classrooms, studying, learning, and discussing all that today's fire service is asked or required to do. This rescue took everything I had, strength, stamina, and a determined mindset to not let go. The citizens we protect deserve a lot with the tax dollars they spend. So in addition to classroom training, please consider training your bodies in some way as well. Be it in a gym, weight room, fitness center, garage, box (CrossFit), or some other place to be prepared to handle what might come your way. You may workout or train in many ways for years and never be tested, but then again, you might.


Paul O. Davis, Ph.D. said...

The tragic lessons learned from a swift water rescue changed everything in Montgomery County (MD). A creek that you could walk across without your socks getting wet turned into a raging river, almost 200m across. Cars were trapped and occupants sitting on the roof of their respective vehicles. Since New Hampshire Ave. spans the county line, Prince George's units were dispatched from the North while we came from the south. It was raining so hard that you could not see to the other side. Our wagon driver waded out and recovered one motorist while the PGFD firefighter from the other side was swept to his death. A second firefighter followed, tethered with a lifeline. He too was swept over the bridge. The firefighters could not recover him using their upper body strength, so the line was tied to the tow hooks on the front bumper. The knot was not tied properly and slipped squeezing his waist severely. He had already drowned. The first firefighter was recovered the next day, way downstream, up in a tree. This wakeup call resulted in Swift Water Rescue as a formal training and deployment protocol.

Unknown said...

Way to go Steve Kotch!!!! A true hero! I totally agree with you. Firefighters can train and be very educated on fire behavior, rescue ops., ect. But fitness is probably the most important thing a firefighter can have.