By 11 p.m. Aug. 27, Bobby Garrett noticed his basement was quickly flooding.
Garrett’s house, located at 3145 Davisville Road, lies directly across Pennypack Creek’s, which was the source of the floodwater.
He said that Davisville Road looked like a river, and that his backyard, which leads to a dense wooded area, looked like a lake.
As a musician, Garrett and his family went to work transporting the musical equipment to higher ground.
“It was fast and furious,” Garrett said. “Drum sets, keyboards, guitars, everything we could lift up the stairs … it was pretty heavy.”
Garrett said they worked for two hours straight, when he first heard a man yelling for assistance.
“Right around midnight to 1 a.m. is when I heard the cry for help,” Garrett said. “It seemed to be coming from the woods, but I couldn’t see anything.”
Unable to locate the man, and ensure the safety of both his family and possessions, Garrett called 9-1-1.
The Willow Grove Fire Department was first on the scene; however, it became immediately clear a water rescue would be needed.
According to Willow Grove Volunteer Fire Company chief Lee Perlmutter, the box system, which is a collaborative network of area fire companies, had been modified to become a task force, in preparation for Hurricane Irene. The task force arrangement allowed specific resources to supplement equipment and emergency personnel.
Before 2 a.m., a swift boat water rescue team from Hatboro Enterprise Fire Company reported and began the attempt of locating and rescuing the individual.
“We were called to assist their fire company,” Keith Gordon, Hatboro Enterprise Fire Company chief, said. “It was a swift water rescue.”
According to Gordon, it was later found that the individual in need of rescue became stuck in his vehicle in the floodwater on Davisville Road after circumventing police barricades.
Gordon said the individual was able to escape his car and make it to dry land, but decided to return to his vehicle when he was swept away in the strong currents.
According to Gordon, three firefighters in water-rescue gear placed the swift boat in service. He said the firefighters were having difficulty searching the thick woods, when an underwater obstruction tipped the boat, flipping it up.
“It might have taken on eight inches of water,” Gordon said. “But they [the water rescue team] are very trained. They reacted quickly and did what they were trained to do.”
The obstruction that tipped the boat may have been a felled light pole, whose power line had ripped down a nearby tree.
However, from the vantage point of the remaining firefighters on land, as debris and landscape obstructed their view, it looked as if the boat was going to capsize, which triggered a mayday call to any available fire company for assistance.
Either already on the scene, or responding to the call were firefighters from Abington, Roslyn, Warminster and Fort Washington fire companies, as well as a water-rescue crew from Allegheny County, which Montgomery County requested to be on call in Conshohocken for the storm.
By the time of the full assembly, the Hatboro water rescue team was able to locate the individual’s area, but the strong current made it difficult to reach him.
In order to diminish the current, Fort Washington’s military surplus vehicle, which is referred to as the “Deuce-and-a-Half,” was able to position itself right off of Davisville Road to block the currents, and help complete the rescue, Gordon said.
In the confusion of the open-call mayday, initial reports from many news organizations incorrectly reported details and facts of the Aug. 28 early morning water rescue.
“I think it went excellently,” Gordon said. “As a chief, I couldn’t be any prouder … it shows how all the firemen and emergency responders work well together.”
Despite a successful rescue, Gordon said that he was surprised to find that it all could have been avoided in the first place.
Willow Grove’s fire chief was also pleased at the multi-department collaboration, but was reproachful of the individual that needed rescue.
“Unfortunately, we have to deal with other people’s bad judgments,” Perlmutter said. “He felt he could risk his life, and 40-plus people had to go out and endanger their own lives for his.”
Upper Moreland Police Department is currently investigating the matter, and will determine whether or not the individual intentionally ignored the road closure and was intoxicated at the time, which would result in charges of defiant trespass, recklessly endangering another person and DUI.
By 3 a.m., after the water rescue, emergency officials instructed the Garrett family to vacate the home, and wait out the storm elsewhere.