DUNROBIN – Normally a manager of incidents, West Carleton’s Ottawa Fire Service (OFS) sector Chief Bill Bell rolled up his sleeves, dove in to the Ottawa River and saved the life of a motor vehicle collision victim trapped in her vehicle as it filled with water.
Shortly after midnight today (June 21) the OFS received an automatically generated call from the Ottawa Police Services (OPS) for a water rescue at the end of Thomas A. Dolan Parkway just past Barlow Crescent.
The report was a vehicle had driven in to the Ottawa River, a female driver was trapped and the vehicle was taking on water.
Bell, a nearby Dunrobin resident, hopped in his OFS truck, was first on scene and “went for a little midnight swim,” he told West Carleton Online this morning.
OPS was able to maintain an open line with the caller to provide valuable updates on patient condition and how quickly the water was rising.
“It didn’t take me too long to hop in my car and get on scene,” Bell said. “I was getting updates on the way.”
When he arrived, he could see the vehicle was nearly fully submerged with just a little bit of the rooftop showing. Bell put on a personal flotation device, grabbed a window hammer and told dispatch he would be out of radio contact for the next little while.
“I said, ‘hear we go,’” Bell said. “I think I used the words I’ll see what I can do.”
Bell said the water was up to the driver’s neck. He could see the headlights of the vehicle four feet or so submerged below the water. The front door was not opening for some reason and Bell broke the driver’s side window. Despite the glass, Bell chose the lesser of two evils and helped the motorist escape through the window.
“We were able to pull her out with no injuries,” Bell said.
Bell said the victim was cold and perhaps in a bit of shock, but well considering the situation.
“I knew I could converse with her,” Bell said. “She handled it very, very well. She was very calm under the circumstances. She was there for a while. I think she had mild shock.”
Bell is an experienced scuba diver but says water rescue is not in the regular firefighters’ repertoire.
“Firefighters are trained for fire suppression, motor vehicle collisions, emergency care,” Bell said. “As far as water rescue goes, that’s left to the water teams (there is an OFS water rescue unit located at the Fitzroy Harbour fire station). But any first responder would have it in their wiring to try to save a life.”
Bell says Sector 6, which includes all West Carleton, and its Ottawa River communities such as Durnobin, Constance Bay, Fitzroy Harbour, MacLaren’s Landing, has a variety of different emergency events to respond to.
“It’s not rare to see vehicles in the water in this region,” Bell said. “You get a real potpourri of events out here.”