Conroe Firefighters Rescue Another Victim from Alligator Creek

By Tom Vines
Photos Courtesy Courier of Montgomery County/Conroe Police Department

Training and experience paid off once again for the Conroe (Texas) Fire Department during a March 1 water rescue.

The Fire Dispatch Center for the city of Conroe, located north of Houston, received a 911 call at 0710 HRS reporting that a man was struggling in the waters of Alligator Creek, under the Dallas Street Bridge at Lewis Street.

A 33-year-old man, believed to be homeless, had been attempting to cross the creek, but apparently misjudged the water’s depth and became caught in the cold, swiftly moving waters.

A rescuer in a Type III harness was attached to the lower end of a tether. The crews lowered the rescuer into the water next to the victim. The rescuer in the water took a length of 1" tubular webbing, secured it under the arms of the man and attached it to a carabineer on his harness. Using hand signals to communicate through a spotter on the bridge, the rescuer signaled for the crews to raise him and the man. They were then raised and set down on the roadway next to the bridge.


The Conroe Fire Department dispatched Engine 1, Ladder 1 and a battalion chief to the scene. Engine 3 was dispatched while the rescue was in progress.

Before fire department units arrived, one of the bystanders retrieved a rope from his vehicle and threw an end to the man. He then secured his end of the rope by tying it to the guardrail of the bridge.

When the first fire department unit arrived on scene at 0715 HRS, bystanders directed rescuers to the victim who had lodged himself against a bridge piling to keep from being swept downstream in the creek, which was swollen by overnight rains.

The 33-year-old man, believed to be homeless, had been attempting to cross the creek further upstream, but apparently misjudged the water’s depth and became caught in the cold, swiftly moving waters.

The Conroe Police Department set up a safety line downstream to catch the man if he lost his grip on the bridge pylon and was washed downstream.

Crews from the ladder and engine companies quick rigged a rescue system. They tethered a 15' line to the platform of the ladder truck, which had been positioned on the roadway next to the bridge. A rescuer in a Type III harness was attached to the lower end of the tether. The crews then lowered the rescuer into the water next to the victim. The rescuer in the water took a length of 1" tubular webbing, secured it under the arms of the man and attached it to a carabineer on his harness. By 0739 HRS, the rescuer had secured the man to his harness.

Using hand signals to communicate through a spotter on the bridge, the rescuer signaled for the crews to raise him and the man. They were then raised and set down on the roadway next to the bridge. By 0740 HRS, the rescue was complete. At 0750 HRS, Montgomery Country Hospital District ALS transported the man to Conroe Regional Medical Center, where he was treated for hypothermia.

All units were back in service at 0753 HRS.

Sources: Conroe Fire Department Lieutenant Stephen Cottar (who was acting Battalion Chief the day of the rescue) provided information for this report. Some additional details were taken from an account of the incident in The Conroe Courier–News.

LESSONS LEARNED/LESSONS REINFORCED:
Had the man slipped downstream past the police department’s safety line, he likely would have ended up in an area where the creek passes through culverts under Interstate 45—and not survived.

The department has responded to numerous calls on the creek, which divides a roadway, and rescued several individuals who have crashed into the creek in vehicles or on bicycles. A number of pedestrians have also fallen in. Ninety percent of the time, the creek has no water in it, but with runoff from the built-up area, water can rise and fall quickly.

Lieutenant Cottar notes that if rescuers had to conduct this operation again, he would have stationed an upstream spotter to alert for debris running in the creek.

The majority of the department’s firefighters have gone through swiftwater technician-level training, and the department has ongoing rope training. The rope and swiftwater equipment is kept on the ladder truck, because the department isn’t big enough to have a heavy rescue unit.

Rescue Editor Tom Vines is the co-author of “High Angle Rescue Techniques” and “Confined Space and Structural Rope Rescue.” He operates a rope-rescue consulting group in Red Lodge, Mont.

Copyright © Elsevier Inc., a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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