ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Those of us who work here at NPR in Washington typically come to work aware of floods, fires, and mudslides someplace else, in the news. Our local disasters tend to be more of the political variety. But this morning, there were scenes of motorist trapped in rushing waters being rescued from their cars, all this just outside the nation's capitol in Bethesda, Maryland. A huge water main broke, and in no time suburban River Road look like a shallow course for river rafting, and rescuers from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department were dispatched to the scene where they performed heroic acts. One of them, Lt. Patrick Mitchell, is on the phone with us right now. Welcome to the program.
Lt. PATRICK MITCHELL (Fire and Rescue Department, Montgomery County, Maryland): Thank you.
SIEGEL: When did you get the word this morning that there were cars flooded?
Lt. MITCHELL: Well, it was around eight o'clock I believe. I didn't see the clock. We were dispatched for a water rescue on River Road which was very rare for us.
SIEGEL: This is a morning rush hour water rescue on a road where commuters are driving to work in Washington, D.C.
Lt. MITCHELL: Right. And this is a fairly major artery.
SIEGEL: What happened?
Lt. MITCHELL: Well, we're not sure. I'm sure it was a cold-weather effect of very large water main that it ended up breaking the water main at the top of a very large hill.
SIEGEL: And we saw you - many people saw you on television all over the country, I guess, this morning as you were helping people who were trapped in their cars. And if they'd gotten out, they might have been swept away by the rushing waters.
Lt. MITCHELL: I was in the forefront with a lot of help in the rear. You know, it was team effort. All it took was one person not to be able to do his job, and we might not have been able to get anybody out.
SIEGEL: How many people were in fact trapped and what happened to them?
Lt. MITCHELL: In total, all together were 12 people were trapped.
SIEGEL: And if you slipped while you're doing this, you could be rushed down and get pretty badly hurt, I should think.
Lt. MITCHELL: Yes. It could have been fatal on some people's part. Our personnel that were in the water, myself included, were tethered and we were trained to be able to get to shore as best as we can in something like that, but it could have been a very serious condition.
SIEGEL: Shore in this case being the side of the River Road getting...
Lt. MITCHELL: Right, yeah, the side, to the current basically.
SIEGEL: You had a boat out there. You were in a boat.
Lt. MITCHELL: Yeah. We have a small boat that we use for that. And we lower that with, well we call lowering it, we allow the current to help us take the boat to the cars by rope.
SIEGEL: What did the people say when you found them in their cars?
Lt. MITCHELL: Well to be honest, they were very - I'll say scared, but they were upset and concerned, and justifiably so, but they were very cooperative. Everybody work well together. They followed instructions to the T and very shortly after I got there, we were able to get people to the shore, to the side of the road.
SIEGEL: At one point, you had to be rescued from this flood.
Lt. MITCHELL: Well, what happen was once we got the victims to shore, the boat flooded and it was almost impossible for the guys to move the boat back to me with ropes. So I could have either self-rescued myself which would've meant swimming back over to the side of the road or just have the helicopter come and pick me up. And they were very close by and jumped right in and said, we'll take of it, so...
SIEGEL: And just before I let you go, all of the people who were rescued, are they all doing OK? Are they alright?
Lt. MITCHELL: As far as I know, everybody was fine. They had some slight cases of hypothermia, other than that, no injuries and no other medical issues, thank goodness.
SIEGEL: And everybody who had seen the water coming down River Road was probably experiencing some kind of shock at that point.
Lt. MITCHELL: It came down very forcefully at one time. Some of the units at the bottom of the hill were stating that the waves were almost four-feet tall.
SIEGEL: Almost four-feet tall coming down a suburban thorough fairway. Well, Lieutenant Patrick Mitchell, of the Montgomery County Maryland Fire and Rescue Department, thanks a lot for talking with us.
Lt. MITCHELL: You're quite welcome. Thank you.
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