A small firefighting crew from Newcastle have pulled off a daring rescue mission and saved the life of a woman trapped by floodwaters.
The four person team, based at Lambton, was part of a Fire and Rescue NSW swift water group, assisting the State Emergency Service-led flood response, when it was called into action at Wee Waa on Saturday.
Setting out in an aluminium boat, towing a rubber dinghy, on the Kamilaroi Highway they trekked through raging floodwaters for a marathon six hours to reach a seriously ill and injured woman, trapped on an isolated farm four and a half kilometres away in Cudgewa Lane.
The firefighters were forced to repeatedly carry their boats, trudging through shin-deep sections of water and dry land, before resuming their journey through floodwaters, across fast-running creeks and a causeway. In hot conditions, they brushed off spiders clambering onto the boats and received help from a passing farmer with a ute.
“We were able to load our inflatable boat into it,” Leading Firefighter, Andrew Griffiths explained.
“He carried us some of the way before we could get back into the water.”
The firefighters eventually reached the waiting property owner and he led them to his wife, who was suffering from a fever, severe dehydration and an injured back.
“She had been nauseous for a few days and had severe back pain which made her logistically difficult to move, as well as severe migraine headaches and vomiting,” Andrew said.
After applying first aid, they tried to call in a helicopter to extract the woman but the aircraft were busy with other rescues, so the team hatched an idea to place the woman in the farmer’s air-conditioned 4×4 tractor and drive her out.
“We transported the patient with the farmer driving the tractor, we had swift water technicians walking in front of the tractor to guide it away from the deeper sections,” Andrew said.
Each team member has 20 years of Fire and Rescue experience, between five and 10 years each as swift water experts.
“It wasn’t that technical, it was just the distance, really,” Team leader and Acting Station Officer Damien Armstrong recalled.
“Fortunately, I’ve got experience in reading the water and can determine what’s underneath even though you can’t see it.”
“Obviously, snakes were a factor we had to be concerned about,” Damien added.
“We all knew each other, we had confidence in each other immediately, so it made it a lot easier and we’ve all got different, extra skills.”
The guides eventually reached a waiting ambulance, which took their patient to hospital.
They then grouped back up, gathered the equipment-laden boats, and together, the exhausted crew headed for base.