2 rescued from medical van stuck in flooded wash

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Javier Soto

Posted on August 23, 2012 at 6:26 AM

Updated Thursday, Aug 23 at 11:51 AM

Map: Vista del Camino Park

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Emergency crews had to rescue two people who were in a medical transport van that got stuck in a flooded wash Thursday morning. One of those people was in a wheelchair.

The entire thing unfolded live on "Good Morning! Arizona."

It happened between 5 and 5:30 a.m. near Vista del Camino Park at 77th and Roosevelt streets in Scottsdale. Ground and aerial video showed rushing water about 3 feet high.

Capt. David Folio of the Scottsdale Fire Department said the van ended up in a bad area for rescuers.

"We were concerned one, it was going to move on us, and two, whether it was going to roll over," Folio explained.

With the rapidly filling wash, a nearby drainage ditch also posed a major concern. Fast-moving water was pushing the van toward that ditch.

"We had everything going against us here," Capt. Mike Virgadamo of the Scottsdale Fire Department, explaining that a standard action plan simply wasn't going to work. "Going through the side door was not an option for us."

Scottsdale crews called in teams from Phoenix and Tempe to help.

After much assessment and preparation, firefighters used the extension ladder to swing rescuers over to the vehicle in a bucket. One of those firefighters then got into the van to help those inside.

Rescuers swimmers were ready to go on both sides of the van and a boat was on standby in case the van moved.

Crews were able to pull both the driver and the patient, who was being taken to dialysis, though the passenger side window into the bucket. Both appeared to be uninjured. The patient was taken to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn for evaluation.

"The big thing here is they remained calm after they made the mistake," Folio said. "They didn't try to get out of the vehicle and into the water."

Once rescuers decided how to best tackle the tricky operation, the rescue itself moved very quickly. They have the driver and the patient out of the van within minutes."

According to those on the scene, the van driver disregarded posted signs and went around a barricade. The swiftly moving water quickly swept it away until it became stuck with water up past its wheels and running over part of the back bumper.

Firefighters train year-round for this kind of swift-water rescue and invariably put that training to use during the monsoon every summer.

"We were lucky on this one, actually," Folio said. "Everything worked out great today."

According to 3TV Meteorologist April Warnecke, the area got more than an inch of rain in just 30 minutes. That created quite a bit of runoff into the wash.

The possibility of flooded washes like this prompted the National Weather Service to issue an urban and small stream flood advisory for central Maricopa County. That advisory was set to expire at 8:30 a.m.

During the monsoon, first responders continually remind people to steer clear of running washes because it's impossible to tell how deep the water water is and how fast it is flowing. It only takes 6 inches of water to move a vehicle as large as an SUV.

Arizona has what's known as the "Stupid Motorist Law." Under that law, drivers who get stuck after going around barricades into flooded roadways can be charged the cost of their rescue. Although the driver was talking to Scottsdale police, it's not clear if that law will come into play in connection with Thursday morning's rescue. She could, however, be cited.

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