Heavy toll of the Belle
It was a daring rescue seemingly made for the big screen.
But last Friday it wasn’t a movie, nor was it played out in Hollywood.
It was right here in Barbados – in the Belle, St Michael, to be exact.
Charlotte Parris was the damsel in distress when her car was stuck in a gully with the tugging of a strong current and raging waters surrounding her.
Firefighters, who were already at another rescue in Belleville, St Michael, responding to a report that someone was stuck in a vehicle that had been immobilised by floodwaters, sprang into action when they got the call around 4:28 p.m. to head to the Belle.
In fact, when the rescue team reached Belleville, the water had receded and the individual was safe.
Then there was another call: someone was trapped in a house in Bridge Gap, St Michael. But the team never got there because a call diverted them to the Belle – which turned out to be a scene of high drama.
The MIDWEEK NATION caught up with three of the four fighters who relived that rescue, which was captured on video and in the Press and spoken of in astonished telling across the country.
The three “knights in shining armour” – Andrew Boyce, Pernel McClean and Glenn Harewood – took a break from their duties yesterday at the Probyn Street headquarters of the Barbados Fire Service and spoke about the events of that day. Missing was Anderson Barrow, the other fireman in the rescue team.
McClean, the man who plunged into the water, recalled that on the way to the Belle, reports were changing all the time. “At one point we heard that children were involved,” he said.
When they arrived on the scene they found a woman perched on top of her car with water all around her.
Boyce, the leading firefighter and the man in charge of the rescue effort, said they made a quick assessment of the situation. “We had to consider safety, how to approach it and the methods we would use, as well as the best equipment we would use on the job,” he said.
Not etched in stone
“We decided who would go into the water,” said Boyce, adding that such a decision is never etched in stone, but is made on the spot sometimes and depends on who is the best person for the job, as well as who volunteers. Sometimes, he said, it might just be based on where a person sits on the truck, if their position puts them closest to the rescue point.
In this case, McClean was the man.
It was his first rescue in his ten-year service in the department.
But he was not daunted by the task ahead.
His aim was to bring that stranded woman to safety.
“There was no fear,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about that; I was just thinking about the lady.”
In fact, McClean noted he only got her to safety on the second attempt.
“When I was going to her, I had to step over a guard wall which had barbed wire on it. I felt that since I saw her I could just walk to get her using the trees and holding on to them. I realised this was not so once I stepped inside the water and started to hold the trees. The current was so strong that it lifted me off my feet. I couldn’t do anything,” he said.
After retreating, McClean assessed the situation again and made another attempt.
“I readjusted the rescue line and took off the helmet I was wearing because it was getting in the way with the strong current. My plan was to try a different approach,” he said.
This time McClean made one big dive forward into the water. It worked. He got to Charlotte, who was still atop the vehicle, a little panicked.
With colleagues and spectators who had gathered looking on, McClean fitted Charlotte with the rescue line.
The next step was to get her safely back to land, a procedure over which Boyce, a 25-year veteran of the Fire Service, took charge.
“I told him to secure her with the floating device and then secure the rescue line around her waist,” Boyce recalled.
It was his voice that kept McClean focused.
“Boyce made sure I remained focused because people were shouting all kinds of things to me and telling me what to do and giving instructions. He [Boyce] was shouting ‘listen to me, secure the lady’,” said McClean.
Heavy-set Harewood was in place to use his muscle and might to haul Charlotte in, with the help of some civilians.
“My plan was to get her to me as soon as possible. I don’t know where the strength came from, but I wanted to make sure she got to safety. There was no room for error,” Harewood stressed.
After about 15 minutes, when Charlotte was safe, his focus switched to his colleague and making sure he, too, was out of harm’s way.
Harewood said: “It could have been a lot worse. I was just relieved to have her in my arms and hand her over to her family.”
McClean was also happy to be out of the water even though the severity of the situation didn’t dawn on him right away. He recognises there could have been a different ending.
“I was told afterwards that about two feet behind the car there was a 20-foot well,” he said.
For this team, all’s well that ends well. They all say it was the grace of God that brought the happy outcome.
And they say, too, that teamwork, support and trust are what make them effective and efficient.
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