ST. ALBANS — New details emerged Wednesday in the dramatic rescue of a woman who may otherwise have drowned in raging floodwaters on Longley Bridge Road in Montgomery on Tuesday.
Two first responders plunged into the frigid waters to rescue the woman from her pickup truck, which was submerged to the exterior mirrors.
A tractor belonging to a nearby resident and cooperation between emergency responders proved critical to the rescue.
Cpl. Brendan McKenney of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and Dean Scott, a 22-year veteran of Enosburgh Ambulance Service, were both on hand at the sheriff’s office in St. Albans yesterday to describe their efforts to rescue the driver of the pick-up truck caught in dangerously high flood waters.
At her request, police are not identifying the driver of the truck.
Fire and rescue departments from Montgomery, Enosburgh, Richford and Swanton also responded to the call, along with the sheriff’s office.
The flood blocked direct routes to the scene and two rescue vehicles became stuck in mud while attempting to reach the scene. “This drastically increased response times,” said Capt. James Sweeny. “It was very fortunate they got there at all.”
McKenney was the first emergency responder to arrive on the scene. Local resident Stanley Longley was already there. Familiar with the area and how quickly the waters can rise, Longley told police that he moves his tractor to his residence when there was a risk of flooding.
McKenney retrieved rope from his vehicle and tied himself to the tractor. Longley then backed about 80 feet into the water.
When they reached the vehicle, McKenney said it took a few minutes to alert the woman, who was conscious but suffering from the effects of having been trapped in the cold water for more than an hour.
The vehicles electric windows would not roll down. McKenney was unable to break the window while standing on the tractor and had to climb onto the roof of the truck to break the driver’s side window.
He then pulled the woman into the bed of the truck and tied the rope around her, connecting the two of them.
Unfortunately, there was no way to get from the bed of the truck to the tractor without going into the still rising water. “We were going to have to go for a swim,” said McKenney.
“Once you hit that water you’re gone. We went right under,” said McKenney.
While McKenney was getting the woman out of the truck, Enosburgh Ambulance personnel arrived. The ambulance, which had to detourt around flooded areas of Route 105, had already gotten stuck in the mud and had to be pulled free by an Enosburgh public works department vehicle. The public works department had sent a loader along with the ambulance in case it was needed at the scene, explained Scott.
Scott saw the sheriff’s officer and woman go under and jumped into the water to assist. “Once they both went under I knew I had to act,” said Scott.
Together, he and McKenney were able to get the woman onto the tractor. Once all were aboard, Longley drove them to safety.
Longley reported he could feel the tractor moving from the force of the water while McKenney was removing the driver from the vehicle.
The driver told Vermont State Police that she was new to the area and unfamiliar with how quickly the floodwaters could rise. There were no warning signs up when she turned onto Longley Bridge Road from Route 118. She did not realize how deep the water was when she began trying to cross it. Once in the water she felt her best option was to try and continue forward rather than back out.
The woman suffered minor injuries and is recovering at home, said Sweeny. It is first responders’ assessment that without the actions of McKenney and Scott, she would likely have suffered more serious injuries, might have been swept away, or could have died in the frigid waters.