Flooding and Franklin County are not strangers to one another, which makes flood water rescues a common occurance throughout the area.
The Pottawatome Township Fire Department is home to the county’s water rescue and dive team. James Savage, chief of the dive team and the fire department, witnessed sheriff deputies attempting flood water rescues without proper equipment or training in the past.
“In 2017, we had some severe flooding in the county,” Savage said. “It passed the capacity of the local dive team to make all the rescues. We had deputies doing rescues themselves. Unfortunately, the sheriff [office] does not provide rescue equipment for the deputies to wade out in the water and [rescue] these people. When it originally happened, we had a couple of night rescues. Night time has its own set of rules. We had deputies having to wade out to vehicles that were submerged in water and rescue women and children. It really bothered me.”
Savage began to search for ways to fund water rescue safety equipment for the sheriff’s deputies.
“Since we have the only rescue department in the county, it was up to me,” he said. “I was very concerned about deputies wading out in flood water to rescue people — prior to our arrival — without the proper gear. I got on scene several times and there were deputies out there in their ballistic gear. It does not float. Unfortunately, if one had gotten swept off his feet, who knows what could have happened. When you are dealing with flood water, it is very unpredictable.”
He said the 2017 flood was a bit surprising as the northern part of the county was hit hard by rain.
“There was flash flooding to the extent that homes were flooded that had never seen water before,” Savage said. “There was fields inundated with 14 feet of water that normally would not flood.”
Not long after that flood, Savage saw the HeroFundUSA CEO on a Kansas City, Missouri, news station promoting how his organization funds up to 50 percent for safety equipment. Savage called to find out more about the funding process.
Darrell Smith, CEO of HeroFundUSA, was grateful to help fund the request.
“It was a timely request,” Smith said. “It was ironic shortly before that request came in, there was a sheriff officer in Springfield, Missouri, that died in a high-water situation. It seemed like a crucial need to outfit these patrol cars with water safety equipment. If they don’t have the right equipment — sometimes they can’t make the rescue or if they do — they put themselves in harm’s way. They suddenly become the victim instead of the helper. When a first responder needs a first responder, it is not a good situation.”
Savage applied for a grant from HeroFundUSA and it was accepted. He purchased the safety equipment, which included a vest, multi-function knife that attatches to the vest, a whistle, helmet, a pair of gloves and a throw bag, a couple of months ago. Savaage said each throw bag has a 75- or 85-foot rope attatched to it.
“Through the process of the past two years, I was able to put together enough funds to buy the gear,” Savage said. “I was able to purchase 15 sets to put in each of the patrol cars. Pottawatomie Township dive team will provide the training for the deputies.”
Savage said the total cost of the equipment was $9,000. Savage raised the other half of the funds through donations.
Sheriff Jeff Richards said his office is thankful for Savage taking it upon himself raise the funds and provide the equipment for the deputies.
“We are very appreciative,” Richards said. “With this equipment, that is going to keep them a lot safer. We are going to more confidently provide a better service to the public.”
Richards said water rescues can be tricky.
“That is not what we were trained and equipped to do, but [the deputies] saw a need and jumped in to do it,” he said. “That’s what first responders do. Swift water rescues are dangerous, especially if you don’t have the equipment. Chief Savage observed that. He was concerned for their safety. I shared that concern.
“This equipment and the training they will be providing will make us a lot more effective. We are not going to be able to help anybody if we get washed away while we are going out there. This will address that need we have.”