Just a few weeks after becoming certified ice water rescue technicians, Steve Mowdy and Jeremy Burcham found themselves applying the training they had received.
Both men serve on the Driftwood Township Volunteer Fire Department in Jackson County, and Burcham also serves with the Monroe Township Volunteer Fire Department in Washington County.
Burcham called Mowdy to let him know about a water rescue near his house and asked if he wanted to help.
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Upon arrival, first responders were waiting on the sheriff’s department’s airboat to get to the scene to rescue two women from a car that had been driven into floodwaters.
After receiving approval to help, Mowdy and Burcham put on their cold water rescue suits and jumped in an army truck, and Mowdy walked through the water to rescue the women. A firefighter wearing turnout gear also assisted.
The vehicle had gone into the floodwaters around 6 p.m., and the rescue was made around 10 a.m. the next day. Mowdy said one of the women was very cold and hypothermic, had purple skin and her hair was frozen straight out from the wind and cold temperatures.
Both women were transported to a hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, where they were treated and released.
“Honestly, I was just grateful that I even had the knowledge to be able to go out and be able to save somebody that has fallen through ice or even been in cold water itself,” Mowdy said.
The incident was proof that it pays off to have firefighters with proper training and equipment so they can help people, whether it’s a water or ice rescue, a house fire, a medical situation or a car wreck.
“We may be on a medical call at 8 a.m., a water rescue at 12 and then a house fire at 1 o’clock,” Mowdy said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
When it came time to plan the fire department’s fundraiser, The Rumble at Fort Vallonia Car Show and Concert, Mowdy suggested using the proceeds for firefighters to receive ice water rescue training and buy equipment.
In 2018, there were 27 water rescues in Jackson County, mainly from motorists driving into floodwaters, and Driftwood assisted with 10, Mowdy said. This year, there already have been 34 water rescues with Driftwood responding to five.
That’s why the firefighters were on board with Mowdy’s suggestion.
“Bigger fire departments have trained specialities. We’re trained on everything, so we have to do everything,” Mowdy said. “So to have the gear, it would just be amazing for the entire department to have their own set of gear. It’s just another step in making us a much better fire department to help serve our community and the surrounding area.”
The goal is to raise around $8,000 to allow eight firefighters to go through ice water rescue training and buy the equipment they need. The class costs $35, while the cold water rescue suit made of 100% closed-seal neoprene is $700, a sling to put around the person being rescued is around $75 and a pack with 200 feet of rope is $150.
Mowdy said that’s as important as each firefighter having his or her own turnout gear for going inside a burning building.
“If I get there on scene and I don’t have my equipment, I’m putting myself in danger if I try to get out there just like anybody else if they get on scene and you’ve got somebody out there struggling and hollering,” he said.
“It’s a hard decision to make, but a lot of people are just going to go do it instead of having the right equipment,” he said. “If you don’t have the right equipment, you’re putting yourself in danger, and you’re going to make double the load if something goes wrong. I want to make sure that everybody has the equipment that they need.”
Last year’s car show and concert raised around $5,000 for the fire department through food and T-shirt sales. Plus, extra money was raised for a local dog shelter and a local food bank. Around 90 vehicles were lined along Main Street from Church to Commerce streets.
Again this year, people are invited to display anything on wheels for free, and registered participants will have a chance to win a prize. Registration starts at noon Saturday, and the car show will start at 3 p.m.
The fire department will sell its famous fish sandwiches, chicken quarters, tenderloins and french fries starting at noon, while live music will go from 1:30 to 11:30 p.m. The lineup includes local acts Lonesome Crow, Forrest Turner and Crane Hill.
T-shirts may be purchased from any firefighter, through the department’s Facebook page or at the event.
Part of last year’s proceeds allowed Mowdy and Burcham to buy cold water rescue suits and equipment and pay for the ice water rescue training, which was hosted by the Friendship Volunteer Fire Department in Ripley County and led by Mike Sieverding, who has his own training and consulting business.
The course involved four hours in class and five hours of training on an icy pond.
Firefighters from the area, including a few others from Jackson County, were able to put on the suits, get in a rapid deployment craft and use a sling and some rope to practice rescuing a person.
“The entire suit itself is a flotation device,” Mowdy said. “The only thing that gets wet on you is your face, and that’s if you get splashed or you go under. Once you get down inside (the water), it’s kind of a unique feeling because you have all of this air that’s built around you in this suit. It’s got what’s called a burp grip there, and you pull it and all of the air comes out, and the thing literally sucks to you.”
The suit has a built-in ice pick, and Mowdy and Burcham later added small flashlights on the back to use for night rescues.
The RDC is an inflatable rescue raft that inflates in about 10 seconds and can be deployed in 30 seconds onto ice or water, Mowdy said. The department would like to raise enough money at Saturday’s event to be able to buy its own RDC, which costs around $4,000.
With Starve Hollow Lake being in Driftwood Township and floodwater rescues on the rise, Mowdy said the department feels the ice water rescue training and equipment are crucial.
“Jackson County just doesn’t have the equipment, I feel, to properly rescue people,” he said. “We’ve got all of these floodwater issues going on. We’ve got officers running out there in their uniforms to try to save a kid, save an adult instead of having the equipment to actually put on and keep yourself protected.”
Since Mowdy joined Driftwood nine years ago, he became an emergency medical technician, and others followed so they can respond to medical calls. They also have their own extrication equipment and now can do cold and swift water rescues.
“The fire department is not what it was 20 years ago where we put the wet stuff on the red stuff,” he said of a time when they only responded to fires.
From Sept. 13 to 15, Bill Matney of Greensburg, Kentucky, is coming to Jackson County to offer swift water rescue training. Mowdy said that will either be done in the East Fork White River or Starve Hollow Lake, and he expects around 30 first responders, including about half of Driftwood’s 21 firefighters, to register. The cost is $300.
Matney will create Class 5 currents in the water, and the first responders will have to swim in it to make a rescue.
Then in 2020, Mowdy hopes to bring the ice water rescue training to Jackson County. Driftwood also will plan its third annual car show and concert for the first Saturday in June.
“Each year, we’re going another step,” Mowdy said. “We’re getting a little bit bigger, a little bit broader and trying to do things a little bit bigger because I think in our near future, what we’d like to see is something that’s a daylong event for the entire family to come and enjoy.”
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What: The Rumble at Fort Vallonia Car Show and Concert
When: Saturday (car show registration starts at noon with the show starting at 3 p.m.; food available for purchase starting at noon; live music from 1:30 to 11:30 p.m. featuring Lonesome Crow, Forrest Turner and Crane Hill)
Where: Along Main Street in Vallonia (if it’s raining, the music will be in the Vallonia Gym)
Cost: Free to register anything on wheels for the car show; Driftwood Township Volunteer Fire Department will sell food and T-shirts
Proceeds: Firefighters will be able to receive ice water rescue training and buy equipment
Donations: Mail to Driftwood Township Volunteer Fire Department, P.O. Box 131, Vallonia, IN 47281 (all donations are tax-deductible)