South King Fire and Rescue’s rescue swimmers team took action Sunday evening when a woman drove her car into Puget Sound via the Redondo Beach boat launch around 7:30 p.m.
The driver was reported to have parked her car on the boat ramp and after a period of time, rolled down her window and drove into the Sound, according to Capt. Jeff Bellinghausen, community affairs officer for South King Fire and Rescue.
SKFR, along with other nearby agencies — including the Des Moines Police Department, King County Medic, and dive teams from Renton and Valley fire departments — responded to the incident, with the rescue swimmer team among the first to arrive on scene. Within minutes of receiving the initial call, a SKFR rescue swimmer was in the water and assisted a civilian and police officer back to shore, who had attempted to swim out to the vehicle about 150 feet offshore, Bellinghausen said.
The rescue swimmer then returned to the waters and located the vehicle, which was found upside down. With the aid of a second rescue swimmer, they pulled the unconscious unresponsive female driver to the surface, Bellinghausen said.
CPR was initiated and with the aid of King County Medic One paramedics she was resuscitated. The patient was transferred to Harborview Medical Center and no further updates on her condition have been released.
A scuba dive team from Renton fire assisted with hooking a tow cable to the car to remove the vehicle from the Sound.
“We saw the need because there’s so many bodies of water here in Federal Way, and of course, we have some of the Puget Sound,” said Captain Dave Michaels, head of the rescue swimmers team and has 26 years of service with SKFR.
Nearly a decade ago, firefighter Travis McKinney started the rescue swimmer team for South King, modeled after West Pierce’s special operations program. Today, the 21-person team responds to about 10 calls a year on average.
“We try to rotate which lakes we’re using for training. We focus on the high-frequency lakes such as Steel Lake or Five Mile Lake because that’s where most of our incidents seem to happen,” he said.
Although peak summer days for swimming are months away, it’s important to remember to properly use a lifejacket if needed and avoid swimming alone, Michaels said.
“The biggest thing that I would like to get out there as a message is if [you] see someone who is in trouble or are with someone who is in trouble, don’t wait to call us,” he said.
Time is valuable in every emergency, he said.
“Make the call first,” he said. “Because time is working against us when it comes to people underwater. The sooner we can get there and start searching, the more likely we can have a positive outcome.”