The Dallas Fire Rescue Swift Water Rescue unit carried out a rescue similar to what is seen in this photo. They had to secure one of their rescuers with a safety line to prevent him from being swept away by the fast moving flood waters in Dallas, Texas, on Aug. 22, 2022. Dallas Police Department photo.
In the wake of a freak summer storm that turned Turtle Creek into a rampaging river this week, officials are crediting the special boat crews from the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department for saving the lives of at least 21 Texans and 10 dogs.
Beginning Monday, Aug. 22, the clouds unleashed more than 15 inches of rain and triggered widespread flooding throughout the North Texas city. Crews that had been running back-to-back 911 and fire calls switched to swift-water rescue operations shortly before midnight on Tuesday.
“It was definitely one of the craziest shifts I've had in 21 years,” Capt. Timothy “Tim” Baker, the commander of Dallas Fire-Rescue’s Swift Water Rescue Station 59, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
“We're ready, but you don't know where the first rescue is going to be,” he continued. “You know, that's just our world. We could be ready all day, but we don't know where it's going to be.”
A Dallas Police Department unit 414 sitting in the flood waters on Aug. 22, 2022. Dallas, Texas, received at least 15 inches of rain in under 24 hours. Dallas Police Department photo.
Station 59’s first rescue involved two people clutching bridge supports at the intersection of Market Center Boulevard and Turtle Creek Street. The other Dallas Fire-Rescue swift-water team from Station 30 arrived, too.
Station 59 boasts a pair of Zodiac Pro Classic 420 rescue boats, and Station 30 has one.
Baker said his firefighters put a boat in the rising water and motored against the current to the trapped victims. They pulled the victims off the bridge's pillars and then ferried them to a safe spot.
Moments later, the team was rushing to another bridge, where an ambulance crew had spotted a car being battered by the rapids of a flooded street.
“The windows were fogged up, and when it's fogged up, it can be a sign that somebody's in there,” Baker said.
Residents and visitors of Dallas, Texas, were suddenly trapped by raging flood waters as the storm came in around 11:00 p.m. on Aug. 22, 2022. Dallas Police Department photo.
The current was too fast for rescuers to wade through to the car, so the team tethered a swift-water crew member to a safety line, and the firefighter splashed into the tumult.
Inside the vehicle was a scared young man. If they hadn’t saved him, the flood would have carried him off in the car only minutes later, Baker said.
Then the team was off to pull six people from a residence. The first floor was underwater, and the flood was beginning to lap at the second deck.
Before dawn, Swift Water 59 and 30 counted a dozen victims they’d rescued.
“I tell you what's crazy is — what a normal civilian has to try to get their mind wrapped around is — we had normal calls coming in during all this,” Baker said. “So our ambulances are still running [...] and they can't get to them because all the access points are flooded.”
Dallas, Texas, was hit by what many meteorologists called a 1,000-year flood on Aug. 22 and 23, 2022. Dallas Police Department photo.
Texas authorities believe the flooding claimed only one life — a person drowned in Mesquite, a Dallas suburb.
Baker said the only casualty for his team was a Zodiac boat that sustained a torn pontoon. It didn’t sink, but his crew was forced to switch to the other boat for the rest of their rescues.
Baker chalks the success of swift-water rescue teams up to a commitment to training. He told Coffee or Die that both stations constantly rehearsed the fundamentals of saving lives, and that kept the crews safe and prepared for the next mission, whenever and wherever it happened.
“They're not calling anybody else; we're it,” Baker said. “They're going to be looking at us, going, 'Okay, if it didn't go well for you, who do you call?'"
Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.
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