This evening, Deputy Chief Stockman, Assistant Chief Majewski, Jr., Firefighter/EMT Schoeffler, and Firefighter EMT Outten were awarded Meritorious Service awards from the New Castle County Fire Chiefs Association. Read the story of the incident below...
On the 5th on June 2016 it was a warm summer afternoon with a severe thunderstorm warning in effect. At approximately 17:40 hrs. a dangerous and powerful storm cell swept into the New Castle Area with high wind gusts and rain. The station received a land line call from 13 The Strand reporting an over turned sail boat with (2) people in the Delaware River opposite the wharf in Old New Castle. Firefighter Drew Outten received the call and took the information, he then advised the resident to make contact with the 911 center and that we would be responding to the call. Firefighter Outten advised the officers and members at the station of the call and the report.
The staffing at station 18 began to get dressed into their water rescue gear and Deputy Chief Stockman advised that due to the severe weather event going on he wanted “an experienced and seasoned” crew to staff the marine unit. Firefighter Frank Schoeffler was appointed the operator of 18 marine 1, Firefighter Drew Outten was appointed the rescue swimmer and Assistant Chief J. David Majewski and Deputy Chief Keith Stockman filled the roles of boat officer and back up swimmer. The Marine unit was towed to the 3rd street ramp by Engineer Matt Bailey. During the response to the ramp the rescue had not been dispatched yet as the county was getting a high number of calls from the storm. Assistant Chief David Majewski notified the Fireboard on TAC 3 that 18 marine units were responding to the Delaware River for an overturned boat with people in the water, he also requested a full rescue box be assigned.
Upon arrival at the third street ramp the rain and wind were at their height and the Delaware River was filled with large wind driven swells. The crew rapidly deployed the Marine unit and began a search along the area last seen. During this search, Boat operator Schoeffler noticed that a large wave had remained intact and it did not break like the other waves had off shore in the shipping channel. Operator Schoeffler advised the crew that he felt that was the overturned boat, conditions at this point severely limited visibility and the new location of the vessel was now further away from shore then reported in large wind driven swells. The Rescue boat was redirected to the small white blur in the shipping channel however the response was slowed as wave heights approached several feet. While responding to the object in the water it became apparent that it was the vessel the crew was looking for. Deputy 18 called fireboard and advised them we had located the sailboat in the channel, confirming it is overturned and that people are in the water.
The Rescue Boat arrived on location to find (2) two people in the water clinging to the stern of the overturned boat with one arm and waving to the crew with the other. It was at this point that the crew determined the only rescue option left was also the most dangerous. The crew of 18 Marine 1 determined that with the large waves, high winds and strong tides a rescue swimmer would have to deploy into the river to retrieve the persons in the water. Boat operator Schoeffler advised the crew he was concerned with the fact that this sailboat has numerous lines in the water and that we cannot see them, he also advised the officers and swimmer that if we tangle the prop we could end up capsized as well do to the conditions. After only seconds of discussion and with no responding back up in the event that a problem should occur, the crew decided upon a live bait rescue. Deputy 18 advised fireboard that a rescue swimmer was being deployed into the water and requested to secure the tach channel. Rescue Swimmer Outten was checked and took a position on the dive door, the rescue boat was brought to a position for access and rescue swimmer Outten was deployed. As swimmer Outten swam to the victims, the crew of Majewski and Stockman prepared themselves to make a recovery of both the swimmer and the victims. As the rescue swimmer made contact with victim #1 (female) the boat operator struggled to maintain course and hold the rescue boat in a safe position. A throw rope was deployed to the rescue swimmer and he and victim 1 were brought back to the rescue boat. The remaining on board crew then pulled the victim into the boat through the dive door. The rescue swimmer return to the sailboat and made contact with victim #2 (male). Rescue swimmer Outten then secured the victim and was again hit with a perfectly thrown rope bag by the on board crews. At this time the waves had increased and holding position was extremely difficult for the boat operator, all three on deck members had to go to the door and recover the victim and swimmer. Deputy 18 advised fireboard that the rescue was made and asked for a BLS to be sent to third street ramp.
In closing it is my belief that the crew of 18 Marine 1 displayed the type of team work and dedication to duty that exemplifies the very core of emergency service. The conditions presented that June afternoon left little room for error and were done at great personal risk as no other rescue resources were in the water to assist should a problem arise. The Rescue Boat crew made no hesitation about responding in these dangerous conditions, further more Rescue Swimmer Drew Outten made no hesitation to place himself in harm’s way to affect the rescue of the sailboat’s crew. I am proud to document these events as they took place on June 5th 2016 and even prouder to serve with these members, there actions are certainly meritorious.
The Good Will Fire Company is extremely proud of the members honored for their actions that afternoon.