On 23 November 2011 at about 19h40, Shawn Webb just finished filling up his response vehicle when a tow truck driver told him and officer Graeme Waghorn of a motor vehicle accident on the N17 east just before Rondebult Road. Webb and Waghorn called for back up and rushed to the scene.
On arrival, they immediately went down a steep embankment to investigate. A car was lying on its roof, submerged under water and sucked into the mud – just the top of one wheel was visible. The car was lying across the stream. The window on the passenger’s side, facing into the stream was broken, which caused the car to be flooded inside.
In a coordinated effort, the crew, together with Waghorn, on Webb’s instruction, lined up on the driver’s side of the vehicle, facing the oncoming water, and with sheer strength lifted the car slightly on the one side. While they lifted, Webb kicked out the back window.
The crew was standing waste deep in mud.
Having access through the back-window, and with the car tilted, Webb got in, and focused on the male driver who was not strapped in. Adrenaline gave him the strength to manoeuvre the man towards the back window from where the crew took him out of the car.
Webb then concentrated on the female passenger. He had to use his seatbelt cutter to free her. He manipulated her body from the front of the vehicle towards the back window from where the crew took the woman, and then helped him out of the muddy mess inside the car.
While Webb was busy freeing the woman, crews started basic life support measures and worked on the male patient. In the water, they checked for a pulse and administered rescue breaths. As soon as the man showed signs of life and was able to breathe, they moved him to a safety zone.
Webb took the female patient and also while in the water, cleared her face and checked for a pulse. She presented with a faint pulse. They administered Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).
The crew knew they had to get the patients up the embankment as soon as possible. After securing both patients on spine boards, they created a human chain and slowly, painstakingly and awkwardly carried and lifted one patient at a time up to the top of the bank. Once on level ground, the patients were treated for head injuries and other multiple injuries, stabilised and transported to hospital.
The crew believe that the patients were submerged for about 5 to 6 minutes. Webb’s response time was about 2 minutes and they must have been underwater for about three minutes by the time he got there. By the time the crew arrived, lifted the car and pulled them out, about 5 to 6 minutes had passed.
Webb said that in his 20 years of service, he had walked away from this call feeling good and feeling that he and the crew were able to make a difference.
Both patients – father and daughter were handed over in a critical but stable condition.
Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality Fire and Rescue Services, Crew and Management
Officer Graeme Waghorn
Victims: Cherele Vermaak & Fire Fighter John Morgan
Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Police Department
Fanie Gouws (Easy Way Towing)
Fire Prevention and Safety Strategies course sponsored by the Fire Protection Association