DISASTER ON THE DELAWARE

I had to wait a while before posting about this incident because I am a little too close to it. By now many of you have seen or heard about the DUK boat accident that happened on the Delaware River yesterday afternoon. This incident happened in the area of Philadelphia where I worked for many years until my recent transfer. I know just about all of the firefighters who were involved in the rescue efforts and in fact my old company from Chinatown was among the first on scene. As always, they did a tremendous job under what can only be described as extremely difficult circumstances. It took a combined effort of many different rescue personnel to avert an even bigger loss of life this time around.

This incident illustrates what those of us in emergency services know all too well: That bad things happen even on nice days. Philadelphia’s waterfront (both of them) are increasingly becoming more and more vibrant. Yet as this incident points out it only takes a split second for things to go wrong. This incident is literally only a few hundred feet from the U.S. Coast Guard station at Washington Avenue that also houses the Philadelphia Fire Department Marine Unit One. Yet Marine Unit One only has a pilot and an engineer on duty at any given time. For the boat to get underway it must first wait until a land-based engine company arrives. That company is usually Engine 3, located about three blocks away. But since the Nutter administration closed Engine 1 and Engine 8 (two of Engine 3’s perimeter companies) it’s even money if Engine 3 is available when a river emergency comes in. They can just as easily be out on the street answering another call.

As you can hear from the audio portion of this video people are in the water and sadly some are drowning. More could easily have died had the current been swifter, or the weather a bit more inclement, or the wreck more violent. It’s times like this where seconds literally count. Luckily there wasn’t a larger number of small children on board. Over the years I would see these DUK’s riding around town full of school children and shudder to think what would happen if there was an accident on the busy Delaware River. Now we know. We were lucky, again. A few years ago another incident on the Philadelphia waterfront left three people dead when a pier collapsed. The owners were convicted of various charges because they knew the pier was in poor repair. That time it was at night and again only through sheer determination and the selfless determination of the rescuers was a larger tragedy averted.

When will our elected officials understand that cuts in emergency services cost lives? Our Marine Unit’s mission has changed over the years yet the city refuses to acknowledge it. Instead of pier or ship fires (the 1950’s mission) today it’s about water rescue as thousands flock to our revitalized waterfronts. Yet our fireboats have no divers assigned. We have little swift water capability until specialized units like Rescue  1 get on scene. Yet Rescue 1 has city-wide firefighting obligations. We can’t keep a multi-million dollar fire boat tied to the pier waiting for a company to show up while international tourists are swept away in the murky Delaware. The companies cut by the Nutter administration would have played a significant part in yesterday’s tragedy, especially Engine 8. The cuts the PFD has endured cause a chain reaction of vacant areas within the city when a large incident like this hits. If a simultaneous event occurs, things get bad very quickly – as with last weeks storms. In the middle of a heat wave our EMS system is already on the verge of collapse, then this happens.

Note the frustration in the person’s voice as he tries desperately to explain the simple facts of the incident to the 911 operator. Key words should have tipped the call taker immediately: PENN’S LANDING, BOATS, PEOPLE IN THE WATER, BARGE. This also highlights the fact that the alarm room is also understaffed and overworked. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard phone calls like that in Philadelphia. The need for professionalism throughout all ranks of the emergency services as well as adequate resources is paramount. Perhaps some of the America Re-investment and Recovery Act funds could be diverted to things that are important. Nahhh.

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8 Responses to DISASTER ON THE DELAWARE

  1. Bob G. says:

    Cap:
    What I want to know is why, on a river with so much traffic, did the barge NOT have someone on the bow doing a scope of what’s up ahaed.
    This really didn’t need to happen.

    I’m pissed over this,and I live in INDIANA (born and raised in Philly, though).
    I just remember how Philly USED to be (a lot safer).
    I can’t BELIEVE Nutter closed Engine ONE, either.(WTF???)

    The 911 operator should have figured that one out like you said.
    I know if I were the guy making the call into dispatch, I’d be fuming, too!

    And kudos to the rapid response by the PFD rescue boat crew.
    (I’m from the era when the police rescue boat and the fire tugs were berthed under the Ben Franklin Bridge…long time ago.)

    PUBLIC SAFETY is the ONE area you MUST NEVER CUT…period.

    If you DO, you invite disaster…and anarchy.
    You’d THINK the politicos could skull THAT one out.

    Good coverage and EXCELLENT commentary.
    (local media would be WISE to read this post)

    Stay safe out there.

  2. Old NFO says:

    Sad, but I also wonder about the maintenance on the DKW. I know the ones I’ve seen, I wouldn’t get in on a bet. Kudos to the FD for the quick response.

  3. Ingineer66 says:

    This could have been much worse. The local news likely will never talk about how the cuts are affecting responses to every day or irregular incidents that happen in the city.

    And it is definitely a challenge when the caller knows more about the local area than the 911 operator.
    I had this happen before when I came upon a person that dove into the lake and broke her neck. I was transferred to a Parks dispatch 120 miles from the lake I was at. We waited about 30 minutes for the 2 rescue boats that were supposedly coming before I finally took our boat to look for help at the closest boat ramp and sure enough as I was pulling up a fire engine was arriving at the ramp. I took the crew out to the scene where my wife at the time was holding C-spine on a large woman in the water. We transported back to shore and the Ranger boats never showed up.

  4. My ambulance service was mobilized by the FRED alert. I was halfway down the Blue Route (coming from Paoli) and our city division had mobilized 4 BLS rigs from the Frankford and University of Penn areas before we got recalled.
    Its pretty sick that the city is relying so much on private ambulance services to bail them out in these scenarios (trust me, when the feces hits the rotary blades, we’ll roll to help anyone, anywhere)but won’t let us help day-to-day operations and take some of the load off an over-abused and understaffed PFD system.

    • Bitter- as much as we need the help it is asking too much for us to integrate outside agencies on a daily basis. We can’t even run two squads out of the same station never mind bringing in outside agencies. We should not be in this position to begin with. The police don’t rely on outside agencies to patrol the streets why should the PFD be so short handed? Our tax payers should get the services they pay for. Insted the money is pissed away on BS social projects with no merit and all sorts of patronage and corruption and waste. It’s a great big shit sandwich.

  5. Personally, the PFD should do what it does best: fight fires. Give EMS over to the Department of Health.

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