BERWYN, PA - On Wednesday, September 1st, the heavy rains from the remnants of Hurricane Ida pummeled the region. First responders across Chester County started getting calls for water rescues in the late afternoon and stayed busy for most of the night with various calls for assistance.
The Berwyn Fire Company had simultaneous fire/EMS crews responding from its main station and substation before 6 p.m. This included water rescue and public assistance calls in the 700 block of Lancaster Ave., Chesterbrook Blvd. near Adams Dr., Walker Rd. over Trout Creek Bridge and others incidents in the Tredyffrin-Easttown community.
At 6:05 p.m., Berwyn crews were alerted for a water rescue along Valley Creek in the area of the Valley Forge National Historical Park Covered Bridge in Tredyffrin Township. Upon the arrival of Chief 2 and Utility 2, Incident Command was established and an initial action plan was formulated. At the same time, Battalion 2 deployed into the woods of Mt. Joy to investigate a vehicle that could be seen a few hundred feet down the roadway that had water up to the hood. It was quickly determined this vehicle had been abandoned earlier in the storm and no rescue services were required.
However, another vehicle was located further downstream that was occupied with water rising quickly. Additional water rescue resources were requested from Fame Fire Company (West Chester), Friendship Fire Company Diving-Rescue Unit (Phoenixville) and Radnor Fire Company. In addition to a Berwyn Ambulance, additional EMS resources were called to standby from the Paoli Fire Company and Malvern Fire Company at the Valley Forge Park Airfield. Valley Forge Park Rangers were also on scene assisting with communications and safety.
The original vehicle that was abandoned began to move in the water and eventually struck the other vehicle with the victim causing it to nearly rollover. The vehicle ended up nearly 1,000 feet downstream of the Covered Bridge after this occurred. The situation continued to escalate with every passing moment as the rescue plan was being implemented.
After not being able to get a boat launched or obtain the help of a helicopter due to weather conditions, the decision was made to initiate a go rescue for the victim trapped in their car. This involved a rescuer being tethered on the back of their personal flotation device, jumping into the water about 25 yards upstream of the vehicle and then swimming as hard as they could to get onto the vehicle. After a rescuer was briefly pulled under the water and another not able to grab on top of the vehicle, a 3rd attempt was successful in making it onto the vehicle. The rescuer was able to provide a personal flotation device to the victim and then get them on the roof of the vehicle at 8:01 p.m. With the assistance of a rope system and another rescuer, the victim was moved out of the water by 8:48 p.m.
Rescuers on the side of Mt. Joy managed ropes, provided lighting and established a safety team downstream in the event the go rescuers and/or victim got swept downstream. Additional personnel from the Phoenixville Fire Department and Valley Forge Volunteer Fire Company were setup in the area of the Rt. 23 Valley Creek Bridge with another safety team in place.
During this operation, a drone with lighting and thermal imaging capabilities was deployed from the area of the Covered Bridge by the Friendship Fire Company Diving-Rescue Unit (Phoenixville). This was a critical element in managing the scene and assisted the Incident Commander in having a better understanding of real-time conditions.
Rescuers worked diligently to move the victim several hundred feet up Mt. Joy to S. Inner Line Dr. to awaiting EMS personnel. This aspect of the operation was completed by 9:45 p.m. As Berwyn EMS checked on several of the exhausted rescuers, Paoli EMS worked on the victim. The victim was transported shortly thereafter in stable condition to Paoli Hospital.
All units cleared the scene by 10:45 p.m. after cleaning up equipment and setting up barricades due to the continued flooding in the area. Every responder on this scene was working in some capacity and made a difference in a life being saved during this complex rescue.
Slippery conditions, heavy rain, rocks, fallen trees, steep terrain, and darkness were some of the challenges rescuers worked through during the over 4 hour rescue operation.
The following agencies were involved in the successful outcome of this rescue:
- Berwyn Fire Company - Station 2 / Station 102
- Fame Fire Company (West Chester) - Station 53
- Valley Forge Volunteer Fire Company - Station 68
- Phoenixville Fire Department - Station 65
- Friendship Fire Company Diving-Rescue Unit (Phoenixville) - Station 77
- Radnor Fire Company - Delco Station 15
- Paoli Fire Company EMS & Fire Police - Station 3
- Malvern Fire Company EMS - Station 4
- Valley Forge Park Rangers
- Chester County Department of Emergency Services 9-1-1 Center (Dispatchers & Call Takers)