Wis. fire chief: River rescue video will aid training

Two firefighters swam out to rescue a trapped victim

By Donna Frake
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

WAUKESHA, Wis. — Battalion Chief Dick Neustaedter said video of a recent successful water rescue of an elderly man who drove his vehicle into the Fox River will make an excellent training tool for his department.

According to the police report, it was just before 11:30 a.m. on March 9, when 81-year-old William M. Stone of Waterford, tried to slow down on the snow and slush covered roadway for the stop sign at Buckley Street and Corrina Boulevard.

Stone accidentally stepped on the accelerator rather than the brake, causing his Honda Odyssey van to leave the roadway and plunge into the river.

"The car was about 40-feet out in the river," Neustaedter said.

"A passerby told him to get to the back of the van, so he unbuckled his seat belt and was able to move to the rear where there was more air.

"The front end of the van sank," he added.

"Two firefighters swam out to him. It was hard to see him with the tinted windows in the van, but then they broke the window and pulled him out the back," the battalion chief said.

The accident was captured in its entirety on the Waukesha Police Department's OptiCop camera.

"It went smoothly. We don't get very many vehicles that go in the water with someone in it," Neustaedter explained.

"The department trains once a year for water and ice rescue. Typically during the summer we go out with the boat to practice water rescue but in the winter, we do ice training. We cut a hole in the ice and practice," he added.

"Afterwards it was nice to see what had happened. It didn't affect the rescue, but we can use it for training. It didn't show us anything we didn't know," explained Neustaedter.

Also helpful was immediate notification of the accident by the public.

"Quite a few people reported the accident; there is an office building across the street" from the site of the accident, he explained. The battalion chief said the man was in the river less than 15 minutes before the rescue was completed. He noted that it does not take long for hypo- thermia to occur when exposed to frigid water temperatures.

"If he would have been in much longer, hypothermia may have set in. Because we were able to get to him so quickly," it was not an issue.

The man was transported to Waukesha Memorial Hospital where he was treated and released.

"He was always conscious and alert and did not complain of anything except being cold and wet. He was taken to the hospital, but he wasn't there very long," Neustaedter said.

"It was a great outcome," he added.

Copyright 2011 Journal Sentinel Inc.

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