Swift water rescue by Martin Fire Department

Article submitted by Martin Fire Dept., Doug O’Bryan, May 22

The Martin Volunteer Fire Department responded to a call from a concerned wife that her husband needed to get to the hospital due to an injury sustained. The wife had tried to get out of their ranch. The rural roads were blocked by water across the road in both directions.

Martin Fire Chief Chris O’Bryan discussed the situation with the wife who sent a video of the water blocking the road. She was concerned the road could be washed out.

Chief O’Bryan initially contacted the Lifeflight Helicopter Service to determine if they would be able to fly. Lifeflight declined due to safety issues caused by weather conditions. Chief O’Bryan contacted the local Ambulance Service and Bennett County Hospital Administer Andrew Riggins concerning the issue. Riggins contacted the wife to access the situation and immediately dispatched a 4x4 Ambulance to the scene. 

Chief O’Bryan made contact with Bennett County Emergency Manager Jeff Siscoe. Siscoe was out of town attending a meeting in Deadwood, but offered his assistance in contacting local county officials and state resources if needed. Siscoe had already been in contact with local county officials concerning county wide flooding and road issues.

Chief O’Bryan advised dispatch to page additional fire personnel to prepare for a possible water/rope rescue and assemble equipment as might be needed. MVFD Track Type Personnel Carrier was loaded for transport to the scene.

MVFD firefighter R. Big Crow arrived on scene as well as BC Ambulance personnel J. Brown and S. Babby. 

Two of the on-scene MVFD Fire and Bennett County Ambulance personnel used a probe while walking the roadway to determine the condition of the road. Water was approximately 12” deep and swift. Footing was difficult but personnel were able to determine the roadway was still intact, but deterioration of the roadbed was progressing. 

The patient and wife had arrived on the scene in a 4x4 vehicle. Fire and Ambulance personnel determined that the road was intact enough to cross and determined to proceed across the water in a slow but steady manner. Bennett County Ambulance driver J. Brown drove the 4x4 truck with the patient across the flooded road to the waiting ambulance.

Chief O’Bryan, along with additional personnel were in route to the scene with MVFD rescue boat, rope rescue equipment and the Tracked Personnel Carrier. Chief O’Bryan was contacted by on-scene personnel and advised the patient had been transported across the flooded roadway and was being transported to a medical facility prior to his arrival on scene. MVFD units and personnel were advised the situation was mitigated and all units could stand down and return to the station.


The wife was correct to assume the roadway could have been washed out and her decision not to cross the swift running water was the right one. 

According to FEMA: - Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and potential stalling. - A foot of water will float many vehicles. 

MVFD and BC Ambulance personnel determined the roadway had up to 12” of swift running water but since the wife and patient were in a larger and heavier 4x4 vehicle, fire and ambulance personnel were confident in the ability of the vehicle to cross. Any delay may have caused the water to rise and roadbed to deteriorate further thus further complicated the crossing.

MFVD advises anybody who comes upon flood waters running across a roadway to stop and not to cross. The flooding waters can conceal a washout or missing culvert and paved roads may be undermined below the pavement not visible from the road surface. Better to wait until water recedes or find a different route.

In emergency situations, contact 911 for dispatch of emergency services.

In this case, the wife did exactly the correct thing and the incident was mitigated with no further injuries or danger to the civilians or rescue personnel.

502 Second Avenue, Martin, SD 57551 • 605-685-6866 • booster@gwtc.net