Debbie S., age 47, was on her regular paper route in Fort Smith, Arkansas when a flash flood swept up her car.
After realizing she was stranded, Debbie called 911 where she spoke to a dispatcher telling her, “Please help me, I don’t want to die! I can’t swim! I’m scared! I’m going to drown!”
Sadly, the dispatcher, who was working her final shift after giving her notice two weeks earlier, replied flippantly, telling Debbie authorities will get there when they get there and that she’s not going to die.
At one point, she even told Debbie to “shut up.”
As the water slowly filled her SUV, she told the dispatcher, “I’m scared. I’ve never had anything happen to me like this before.”
The phone call between Debbie and the dispatcher lasted 22 minutes. During this time, she pleaded for help and prayer but was scolded instead.
In fact, the dispatcher told her, “Well this will teach you, next time don’t drive in the water, I don’t see how you didn’t see it, you had to go right over it, so.”
Unfortunately, it took first responders 12 minutes to arrive on scene, but because of the floodwaters, it took more than an hour to reach Stevens’ vehicle and by the time firefighters were able to secure the car, Debbie had drowned.
According to Fort Smith Interim Police Chief Danny Baker, the dispatcher’s response was “calloused and uncaring at times,” but she did nothing criminally wrong nor violated policy.
There is no question this a tragic story and that a family lost a loved one because of unexpected rising flood waters and a horrible human being of a dispatcher.
The reality is, this time of year much of our country is in monsoon or hurricane season so the potential for heavy rains and flooding could happen anywhere, even the middle of the desert.
This is why I want to share with you a few ideas that can hopefully help you survive rising flood waters, if you happen to be trapped in your car.
Roll the windows down immediately. The second you realize you are trapped by rising flood waters, you want to roll all the windows down as fast as possible.
If you wait too long, it will be more difficult to roll the windows down or open the doors because of the water pressure.
Another thing is, you know, my favorite self-defense tool is my tactical pen.
The best part is, not only can it be used for self-defense, but it can also be used as a glass breaker to bust out a car window if you are trapped by water.
Get on the roof. As soon as your vehicle starts filling with water, you want to get out before you are trapped and completely submerged.
Ideally, you want to get on the roof of your vehicle as quickly as possible and you want to stay low.
What I mean is, your vehicle will be unstable, so you don’t want to be standing upright on your car roof. You want to keep a low center of gravity and wait for help.
The fact is, six-inches of water is deep enough for you to lose control of your vehicle.
One foot of water is enough to float most cars and two feet of rushing water can carry away cars, SUVs and pick-ups.
Feet first. If your vehicle is completely submerged in water, you may be forced to swim away.
With that being said, this will be easier to do if you are stuck in a lake or pond where the water doesn’t move very fast.
However, if your vehicle was overcome by rushing water, you will most likely be swept downstream.
In this case, you want to float downstream with your feet first.
This way you can block or kick any obstacles that you may encounter. (If you’ve ever done any whitewater rafting, then you know how critical this is.)
Also, while floating, never go underneath any obstacles such as trees or guardrails because you could go underwater and unexpectedly get trapped by something you didn’t see.
If you have to go around debris, try to kick your way around it or go over the top of it.
Dealing with rushing water overtaking your car is very unpredictable.
So, while staying calm is easier said than done, you want to call 911, stay calm, and take the above steps to help improve your chances of survival.