Firefighters on a different shift would’ve done the same thing.
That’s what Brownwood Fire Department Lt. Kyle Whitley said after Whitley and six other firefighters who responded to the Ten Mile Crossing incident on May 12 received lifesaving awards.
Outgoing Fire Chief Eddy Wood gave the awards to five of the seven firefighters who were able to attend an informal ceremony Wednesday at the Central Fire Station.
The firefighters made a swift-water rescue and pulled a woman who’d been in the water for more than seven hours, clinging to the bank, to safety.
“It could’ve been another shift that was doing it and they’d have done the same thing we did,” Whitley said.
Whitley was among the firefighters assigned to Station 2 and were temporarily housed In the Gordon Wood Stadium field house as Station 2 underwent repairs.
Firefighters had finished breakfast and were preparing for the day when a call came in at 8:30 a.m. The call initially came in as a vehicle off an embankment at Ten Mile Crossing, Whitley said.
On the way to the crossing, firefighters encountered a man who’d been in the pickup that was swept away. The man had flagged down a motorist and stood near the motorist’s vehicle as firefighters approached.
“You could see he was physically exhausted,” Whitley said. “I think he was to the point where mentally he was just drained. He had been there since it all happened and tried to rescue the lady he was in there with, but he couldn’t rescue her.
“That’s when we realized there was somebody in the water and somebody in the vehicle that had been swept off the road. This was more than just a vehicle off an embankment.”
Firefighters staged at Ten Mile Crossing and made their way about a half-mile downstream on foot, where they found the woman in the water, clinging to the bank. Firefighters were on an embankment above 20 feet above the bayou when they found the woman, Whitley said.
“She was done,” Whitley said. “You think about eight hours of hanging onto a branch in floodwaters. She was just physically — you could tell that they were in shock. She gave us some additional information like vehicle description and stuff like that.
“We had two guys that were on what we call a tag line, and they attached themselves. Everybody was wearing swift water rescue gear. Phillipe Foix was on the end of that rope and he went down the embankment, and had to get into the water to get her out. He put another vest on her with another line and those two guys helped pull her up. It was pretty tough. It was slick because it had been raining, so there was mud.”
An Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter crew had been flying in the area, assisting with the search for the missing pickup and the victim inside, Whitley said. The helicopter landed in a nearby pasture to pick up the woman and fly her to a hospital.
Whitley said firefighters didn’t contemplate the possibility of failing in their effort to rescue the woman.
“You don’t even really contemplate that side of it,” Whitley said. “You just know that there’s somebody in there and you’re just going to get them. I mean, that’s just all there is to it.”
Twelve Brownwood firefighters received swift water rescue certification a little less than two years ago, Whitley said.
Whitley responded to earlier comments made by outing Chief Eddy Wood, who noted that firefighters had taken the unusual step of putting the male survivor in a fire truck so the man could direct firefighters to the woman’s location.
“Chief Wood mentioned picking the guy up, and that might be unusual,” Wood said. “But under his leadership — he’s only been here two years, but he always has our back.
“And when we do something that’s out of the box like that, he supports us 100 percent. When someone’s a leader like that, it makes it easy to make those choices.”
Wood’s last day on the job as Brownwood fire chief was Wednesday. Wood is taking a job with the Saginaw Fire Department, where he will be division chief.