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Scuba team receives recognition for saving fellow rescuers, woman in Colonial Beach
By CATHY DYSON
The Chesterfield County scuba team that drove two hours through a tropical storm, then plucked three people—including two emergency service volunteers—from raging floodwaters in Colonial Beach is receiving national attention for its efforts.
“It was like the cavalry coming to the rescue,” said Jim Jett, a firefighter and one of those rescued last year. “These guys were bad to the bone.”
The team is from the Chesterfield Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services.
In April, the team received a heroism and community service award from Firehouse Magazine. A recap of the rescue will be included in an upcoming newsletter for members of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
The recognition stems from Sept. 8, 2011, when the team answered a statewide request for mutual aid from Westmoreland County.
Tropical Storm Lee had hovered over the Colonial Beach area that night, turning calm creeks into treacherous torrents.
The Colonial Beach Volunteer Fire Department already had rescued about a dozen stranded people when a call came in about a woman stuck in water near Monroe Bay, off State Route 205.
By the time fire trucks got there, water was more than 4 feet higher than normal—and up to the door handles of the woman’s car. Jett, with the Colonial Beach department, and Nick Roe, with the Westmoreland Rescue Squad, tried to help the woman, and all three were plunged into the water.
The Chesterfield Fire and EMS Scuba Rescue Team had to get through flooded waters and fallen trees to reach Colonial Beach.
Once there, Scuba Boat 14 was launched amid floating logs and debris that filled the once-small creek.
Capt. Gerald Pruden, who graduated from Spotsylvania High School in 1978, directed the rescue.
Firefighter Gene Ledlie drove the boat with Lt. Joel Britt at the bow.
Once close enough, Britt jumped into the water, swimming against the current to the woman, who clung to Jett and bamboo branches around them. Britt helped her with her flotation device, and the two made it back to the boat, where Lt. Bryce Ford helped lift her into the watercraft.
Britt went back in the water to get Jett, but the firefighter’s uniform was so heavy, Britt couldn’t get it off to get the flotation device around him.
“With time being critical,” according to the awards nomination, Britt decided to swim Jett to the boat.
To make matters worse, the boat motor was losing power because of debris that got sucked into its jet drive. Ledlie quickly cleared the mess, and the rescuers were able to steer the boat close enough to Roe to get him out of the water.
In a Free Lance–Star story after the rescue, Jett said he has no doubts about what would have happened if the Chesterfield team hadn’t arrived. The people had been in the water more than 90 minutes and were becoming weak as kittens, Jett said.
“I never would have made it without these guys,” Jett said last year.
Chesterfield officials are proud of the way their team rescued the stranded woman and their brothers in need.
“The entire department, as well as the citizens of our community, are extremely proud of these four brave members,” the awards nomination states.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425