Water Rescue

Labette No. 9 Fire District Assistant Chief Bret Hodgden (left) and Parsons Firefighter Cody Fought (center) hold a boat against the Little Labette Creek current while Labette Health Ambulance Service Capt. Travis Modesitt hands a personal flotation device to Caryl Fank Friday afternoon on Country Club Road south of 24000 Road (Main Street).

Little Labette Creek, swelled by recent rains, consumed two pickups on Friday when their drivers entered the creek’s swift water in different locations less than 2 miles apart.

Parsons firefighters, who are part of Task Force 4, the Labette County Sheriff’s Office, Labette No. 9 Fire District and the Labette Health Ambulance Service responded to the first incident at 1:55 p.m. Friday. The call location was Lyon Road, also called Country Club Road, south of 24000 Road (Main Street). 

Rescue personnel had to backtrack to Ness Road, south to 22000 Road, west to Lyon Road and then north on Lyon to get clear access to the scene.

Caryl Fank of Parsons was sitting on the roof of her pickup in water nearly to the top of the truck bed. She had called 911 when the pickup was consumed by swift water and dispatchers stayed on the phone with her until rescuers got to her. The dispatcher also advised her to get on the roof if she could, Fank said.

She said she was northbound on Country Club Road when she entered the water.

“I got about halfway and I could tell I needed to back up. So I backed up and my car just went that way and the water started coming in,” she said.

“The water was coming higher and higher,” Fank said, but thought she was about to make it through. “Then I decided I wasn’t, so I backed up and then the current took me that way.”

“Scary. Stupid, stupid, stupid, but scary,” she said.

Rescuers tied a long rope to a nearby tree to control the nose of the boat in the current, and they walked the boat to the pickup. Ambulance Service Capt. Travis Modesitt handed Fank a personal flotation device and a helmet and helped her into the boat. Labette No. 9 Assistant Chief Bret Hodgden and Parsons Firefighter Cody Fought walked the boat back to higher ground.

Rescuers said the water was swifter than it looked. 

Task Force 4 is a Homeland Security initiative for preparedness and includes responders from Pittsburg, Iola, Parsons, Chanute and Neodesha. The task force trains in special rescues, including confined space, trench and structural collapse. Parsons firefighters are also trained in rappelling.

About an hour after the first call, rescuers were called for a swift water rescue at 23000 (Southern Avenue) and Meade roads. The call time was 3:01 p.m.

Kris Ellis was sitting on the roof of his pickup on 23000 Road near Meade when he finally caught someone’s eye. He didn’t know how long he’d been swamped in the high water of Little Labette Creek, about a mile and three quarters south and east of the first rescue Friday. Ellis’ phone didn’t survive the water, he said, so he couldn’t call anyone. He tried to jump up and wave his arms when he saw vehicles. Ellis didn’t know how long he had been swamped before he got someone’s attention.

He said he was driving around the mile section (22000 Road to Meade Road) when he turned north on Meade and east on 23000 Road (Southern Avenue). When he turned onto 23000 Road the water came up fast, he said. The water was up on his dashboard.

Modesitt and Parsons firefighters Fought and Jared Stringer piloted the boat from near 35th and Southern west toward Meade. They followed the same sequence of giving Ellis a helmet and personal flotation device. They then piloted him to higher ground. 

The ambulance personnel checked Ellis out just as they did Caryl Fank. Parsons police also responded to this rescue.

The vehicles may remain in place until the Little Labette Creek subsides.

Labette County Emergency Management Director Charlie Morse posted on his department’s Facebook page Friday that drivers should avoid high water. He also posted the adage, turn around, don’t drown.

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