Lewes firefighters go below decks on Lightship Overfalls

Rescue drill features 'victim' with broken leg
July 1, 2014

Gordon Davis, deputy chief of the Lewes Fire Department, talks about the golden hour when it comes to saving a life.

It's 60 critical minutes firefighters, ambulance crews and paramedics have from the time they arrive at a scene to the time a victim arrives at the closest hospital for treatment.

During a June 26 drill at the Lightship Overfalls in Canalfront Park, a Lewes volunteer crew was able to secure and remove a “victim” with a broken leg from the bottom deck to the parking lot in less than 40 minutes. “This was very realistic and still within the golden hour,” he said following the drill. “Getting the victim out in 39 minutes with those type of obstacles is excellent.”

Volunteer firefighters were hampered by the tight quarters in the Overfalls and were forced to use special rope rigging and a skid to move a 160-pound dummy from the lower deck to the second deck. Once the dummy was extricated from the lower deck, it took volunteers only a few minutes to move it up another flight of stairs onto the deck and down the gang plank.

Davis gave his crew high marks during a critique of the drill. “It was good team work with everyone thinking about the next step,” he said. “Using the skid was a good call.”

He said the crew may have not had to manhandle the skid as much if a higher anchor point had been selected for the rope rigging. “You had options,” he told his crew. “This is a brand new piece of equipment and this is why we do training.”

Volunteers agreed that one thing they would have done in case of a real emergency in hot weather would be to provide better air circulation inside the ship; the temperature easily exceeded 90 degrees.

Sussex County paramedic Rob Mauch said in a real situation paramedics treating a victim in the tight quarters of the Overfalls would have added to the difficulty of the rescue. “We would need very clear, concise communication,” he said.

“We see this lightship all the time and take it for granted,” Davis said. “But we need to realize it could be a significant rescue situation for us, and it might not be a simple rescue.”

The idea for the drill came from retired Burks County, Pa. Fire Chief Bill Battista, who is also an active Overfalls volunteer who moved to Lewes two years ago.

He said it's important for local firefighters and paramedics to be familiar with the interior of the Overfalls. “It's not only to protect visitors, but also to protect the volunteers who work all over the ship. Many of those interested in the ship are older.”

As an observer of the drill, Battista said he was impressed with the interactions of the Lewes firefighters, ambulance crew and Sussex paramedics. “I knew getting anyone out from the lower deck would be a task and a half,” he said. “It's always better to learn during a controlled practice than dealing with a real incident.”