On Saturday, April 8, 2006 at 5:35 PM, ten Companies of Los Angeles Firefighters, three LAFD Rescue Ambulances, one Heavy Rescue, one Urban Search and Rescue Unit, two Helicopters, one EMS Battalion Captain, two Battalion Chief Officer Command Teams and one Division Chief Officer Command Team under the direction of Battalion Chief Michael Bowman responded to a Swift Water Rescue reported near 13142 West Foothill Boulevard in Sylmar.
Despite fair weather, local flood control channels remain swelled with recent stormwater, causing the Los Angeles Fire Department to remain in a "River Rescue" preparedness status.
When a 9-1-1 caller reported persons in distress within the Pacoima Wash, seventy-three LAFD personnel from across a broad expanse of the San Fernando Valley sprang quickly into action on the ground and in the air as Firefighter/Dispatchers queried callers to determine that two young girls were imperiled in frigid fast-moving water.
Guided by the LAFD Computer-Aided Dispatch system and Firefighter/Dispatcher's expertise, Pacoima-based Engine Company 98 was sent downstream to a pre-planned rescue point near the intersection of Del Sur Street and Haddon Avenue.
Traveling unimpaired to the scene as they donned flotation vests, sneakers and water rescue headgear, they alighted from the Engine at lightning speed with bolt cutters to breach a locked gate and then rapidly position their apparatus as a hard-point to anchor rescue - or recovery - operations from alongside the trapezoidal channel.
Within moments of their arrival, they saw the two girls no more than 100 yards upstream in the 20 mile-per-hour water.
Knowing that both girls, clad in dark clothes, were as little as three-hundred yards from the profound danger of churning and life-taking waters near a clamshell dam, Firefighter Mike Celestino grabbed Engine 98's life ring flotation device with tether as his colleagues secured him to the Engine with a rescue line. Witnesses describe these vital tasks being completed in split-seconds.
Knowing he would have only one chance to rescue the girls, Firefighter Celestino sprinted down the 45-degree concrete channel embankment and leaned out over the water to extend the life ring to the oldest girl.
The 16 year-old grabbed the ring as her rescuer began to run down the edge of the channel to lessen the force of the rapidly moving water. The younger girl, 11 years of age, held strongly to the older girl but was unable to grab the ring.
As the trio moved down the channel for seconds that seemed like an eternity, Firefighter Celestino was able to pull both children to the waters edge and attempted to hold them until members of Engine Company 98 could get into position to assist him.
Noticing that the younger girl was losing her grip on the older girl and might be swept away, Firefighter Celestino partially entered the water in order to fully capture the youngest victim.
He was successful and both girls were soon brought to dry level ground.
As the sixteen year-old Pacoima girl and her 11 year-old cousin from Littlerock were wrapped in Firefighters turnout jackets and later warm blankets in an LAFD ambulance, they stated that they had been playing near the flood control channel when they fell or slipped in.
With an accompanying parent who later arrived at the rescue site, the girls were transported in good condition by LAFD ambulance to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills for treatment of multiple abrasions sustained in their three mile trip down the concrete lined urban river.
As the Captain of Engine 98 stated "If we had arrived seconds later we wouldn't have been able to save them".
Submitted by Brian Humphrey, Spokesman
Los Angeles Fire Department
Special Thanks and Photo Credits to
Battalion Chief Evan Williams, Battalion 14 blog