An investigation into the Pullman Fire Department’s rescue of about 20 people during the Mission Flat Creek flood on April 9 bollixes the mind.
Details of the anonymous complaint that triggered an investigation by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries haven’t been revealed, but it is assumed that the major complaint involves the use of a front-end loader to pluck stranded folks out of flood-bound buildings.
Other issues may be involved, such as lack of life jackets and who knows what all.
For background, I drove through the flood waters twice before city crews blocked North Grand Avenue.
No, I’m not as crazy as this may sound.
I drove it from my home on Pioneer Hill to Military Hill taking a granddaughter home and dropping off a utility trailer. Water then was but a few inches deep.
Coming back across without the trailer, North Grand had become a torrent of deeper water.
I’ve been driving for 66 years, and swimming in rivers for most of 77 years. For many years I canoed and ran white-water on the Grand Ronde and Snake rivers.
Yes, I’ve seen a thing or two, done a thing or two, and learned a thing or two.
I know water hydraulics well enough to have great respect for the power of moving water.
Watching Pullman’s front-end loader rescue on television, I burst into excited laughter. What a brilliant rescue machine in these circumstances. Water was only about 3-feet deep and moving very fast.
Dangerous? You bet. Very dangerous.
Pullman’s Fire Department doesn’t own a boat, and a boat would have been useless in the conditions then present.
Water was too shallow for a propeller and too swift for a rowboat.
The only other method that comes to mind is helicopter rescue; but no one knew whether a helicopter could get into action fast enough.
Whoever made the decision to bring in the front-end loader should receive a commendation. Bureaucratic rules be damned!
Last year the city of Camas was fined $4,800, according to a state department of labor spokesman, because two firefighters didn’t wait for a third responder to arrive before rescuing a man and two dogs from a burning house.
When people need rescuing, do we really want first responders getting out the rule book to help them decide whether to attempt a rescue?
Responder No. 1: “Let’s see, it says here on page 67, Rule 15 ... ”
Responder No. 2: “Wait a minute. That may conflict with Rule 5 on page 49 ..."
“We don’t inspect outcomes. Any violation is based on the rules. There are certain things you have to do to have a safe work place,” labor spokesman Frank Ameduri, told reporter William L. Spence: Spoken like a bureaucrat.
Fires? Floods? Safe work place? What an oxymoron!
Responders — first to last — are the men and women who have to make on-the-spot decisions. They know the risks and shouldn’t be criticized for taking them.
People taking risks to save others should be called what they are — heroes.
Pullman firefighters were both brilliant and safe in using the front-end loader.
Perhaps a Washington State University engineer will do us the favor of calculating what it would take to float a 14-ton Caterpillar front-end loader.
There isn’t much buoyance in those big tires. They are solid rubber and weigh about 500 pounds each.
The calculation should be fairly simple: Weight, road-clearance of the vehicle, and depth and speed of water. Any takers?
Terence L. Day is a journalist and retired Washington State University faculty member. He welcomes email

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