By Joseph P. Cirone
Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Public Affairs
JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, D.C. (Feb. 19, 2010) – Two young men are likely alive today because of the skills of Naval District Washington (NDW) Central Battalion firefighters based at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB) and the Washington Navy Yard (WNY) and an amount of luck.
According to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Robin Shaffer, JBAB director of operations, the firefighters were completing a fire and rescue skills training drill at JBAB’s marina, when a small aluminum boat with the two people aboard was first noticed just before noon last Saturday.
The boat, with a single outboard motor, was operating on the Potomac River, near the marina’s entrance, during a day of intense wind conditions, which fanned history making brush and structure fires, throughout the National Capital Region.
Sustained winds of up to 50 mph with wind gusts reported as high as 60 mph were recorded in the area by the National Weather Service. Wind forced waves of water over the boat’s sides, according to firefighters at the scene.
“Even though they were wearing lifejackets, we knew it was not good to be out there, so we yelled to them to come into the marina for safety,” NDW Fire and Emergency Services, Batt. Chief John McDonald, said. “They either didn’t hear us or ignored us.”
As the firefighters and McDonald watched, water swamped the boat and it overturned, throwing its occupants into the cold water. “One of them had a cast on his leg and the other didn’t seem to know how to swim,” McDonald reported.
Firefighters from NDW Fire and Emergency Services Engine Co. 42, based at WNY and Tower Ladder Co. 21, based at JBAB, sprang into action, quickly retrieving rescue equipment from their fire trucks and climbing over a fence where they could gain access to the waterborne victims.
One of the boaters was quickly rescued using a rope thrown from the shore. The other victim was struggling to stay afloat and became distressed, according to McDonald.
According to reports, Firefighter Steven Hainey, who volunteers during his off-duty time as a Fire Capt. with the Accokeek (Md.) Volunteer Fire Department threw a life ring, attached to another rope, to the struggling victim so he could be pulled to safety.
Aided by fellow firefighters, Hainey and McDonald, brought both victims to shore and began providing emergency medical care while an ambulance was en route to the scene. McDonald said, “One was showing signs of possible hypothermia and the other was in respiratory distress.”
While both victims were being transported to a District of Columbia area hospital, a D.C. Fire and EMS Department boat assisted NDW firefighters in removing the boat from the water, preventing it from becoming a hazard to navigation.
“It is very likely that had we not been there at the time, the two may have perished,” McDonald concluded.
JBAB public safety personnel routinely train for a variety of emergency situations, in a plethora of locations and conditions on the installation to be prepared when seconds count.