Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dramatic rescue saves girl

Firefighters brave fast-moving, frigid water

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There was plenty of praise Monday for the heroic work of two volunteer firefighters who waded in and saved a 12-year-old girl who had been clinging to a tree in a frigid, fast-moving creek near Ste. Rose du Lac on Saturday night.

A man and his daughter survived a harrowing ordeal after they were travelling in their truck across a low-level crossing of a creek just outside town in the dark about 10 p.m., unaware the water had risen to impassable levels. The truck's engine became wet and died, stranding them in the vehicle with swirling creek water halfway up the doors.

Stay dry, stay alive, says prof

PROFESSOR Popsicle says no good can come from attempting to drive over a flooded-out road.

If you think Gordon Giesbrecht (aka Professor Popsicle of the University of Manitoba) is stating the obvious, the statistics say otherwise.

"Four hundred people drown in vehicles every year in North America. Up to 10 per cent of all drownings happen in vehicles," said Giesbrecht, who is helping craft a protocol for emergency crews responding to vehicles in floodwater.

"People don't think about vehicle submersion until you put it in those terms. Then they kind of wake up and go, 'What? That's a lot of people.'

"It's a tragic, nasty way to die. If you do drown, it's because you're trapped in the vehicle and you can't get out and it's a few minutes of sheer terror."

The issue of submerged vehicles can be divided into prevention/preparation and what to do if it happens, he said.

"People need to know what to do: windows, seat belts, children out. You basically have one minute to get out of the vehicle," Giesbrecht said. "The vehicle will float for two, three, even four minutes. But once the water gets up against the windows, you can't open anything out. It's (within) your first minute that you can open windows to get out."

Giesbrecht said most of these tragedies can be avoided because it comes down to a choice: stay on dry ground or attempt something extremely risky.

"The problem in Manitoba is that we have hundreds of roads that are flooded every year, so that's not a surprise," he said.

-- Prest

The pair escaped the vehicle but became separated. The girl was carried away by the water and was clinging to a tree on the north side of the creek and calling for help.

Two volunteer firefighters from Ste. Rose du Lac waded, neck-high, into the freezing water to get to her.

The girl's father, David Perih, was rescued from the roof of the truck by firefighters who reached him using the bucket of a neighbour's tractor.

On Monday, CTV News Winnipeg spoke with Perih about the horrifying experience.

Perih said when they got stuck, he and his daughter, Dayna, climbed through the window and onto the top of the truck.

"Then my daughter said, 'I'll swim for help.' She knows I can't swim. She's a brave little girl to do that," he said.

He said Dayna jumped into the water, but was quickly swept away.

"I seen her for a while, then I couldn't see her and she says, 'Daddy, I can't hang on anymore.' And I says, 'Grab onto trees. Hold onto trees sweetheart.' And that's what she did," Perih told CTV.

Dayna and her father, along with one of the firefighters, were taken to hospital for treatment of hypothermia.

"I thought they all -- the RCMP, firefighters, ambulance -- all did everything really well and pretty quickly. It's just incredible how well it went and nobody got hurt seriously," said James Rath, the neighbour who drove the tractor. "I talked to the dad and he said he was driving with his window open and that's how they were able to get out. Lucky he had it down."

The girl remained in hospital Monday, but is expected to recover. The others have been released.

Rath, a former firefighter, said the girl's father told him, "The water tore her sweatpants off so she's pretty scratched up from all the debris but she is OK other that."

The water was so cold it still had ice chunks on it.

Ste. Rose du Lac Deputy Mayor Ivan Worrall said the quick action of the volunteer firefighters saved the girl's life.

"It was great because I don't think the little girl would have held on much longer. We're super-proud of them," said Worrall, noting the girl may have been in the water as long as 45 minutes. "Our guys were in the water for five minutes and were frozen to the core. I don't know how she held on. It's amazing.

"You never know what you are going to do until you are in the that kind of situation. Those guys stood up to it and they did it."

Ste. Rose Fire Chief Daryl Vandenbosch said the firefighters had to locate the girl downstream in the dark.

"Excellent job by our guys. They are to be commended," said Vandenbosch, adding another neighbour had called 911 after hearing the cries for help. "There was water there, they (the man) shouldn't have driven into it but I guess they figured it wasn't that deep. Once the truck got into it, it was about halfway up the door on the truck and that's when the engine died,"

RCMP Cpl. James Munro said ropes brought from the RCMP vehicles at the scene secured the firefighters who braved the fast-moving, freezing water.

"The firefighters went into the water up to neck level to rescue the young girl," Munro said. "She was a very strong-willed young lady to hold onto the tree as long as she did."

Vandenbosch said the truck quit running in one of four low-level crossings in the area. The culverts are in the bottom of the creek beds, so instead of making a bridge, cement is laid over top so vehicles cross by driving over the cemented area.

Two years ago, a 61-year-old man died under similar circumstances.

Raymond Stott drowned in early April 2011 when he drove his pickup truck across a gravel road that had been washed out by the fast-rising Marsh River in the RM of De Salaberry near Niverville.

The truck was picked up by the current and carried deep into the fast-flowing river. Stott was found the next day still trapped inside his truck in about five metres of water.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 30, 2013 A3


Updated on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 6:32 AM CDT: adds fact box

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