Special Report: Water rescue simulation shows how treacherous floodwaters can be

WARRICK CO., IN (WFIE) - The flooding in Tennessee is a vivid reminder of how dangerous fast-moving water can be.

Every year, some 200 Americans lose their lives in floodwaters. Most of the victims are in their vehicles.

The Knight Township Fire Department in Indiana responded to three water rescues last year, but already in 2010, that number has doubled. That's why Action News 5 sister station WFIE teamed up with Knight Township to demonstrate the dangers of driving through floodwaters, both for drivers and for those who try to save them.

The scenario took place at Angel Mounds boat ramp where the near shore was similar to what we could see during a flash flood.

Tri-State Towing and Recovery provided a car which was drained of all its fluids and had the battery removed. WFIE placed a camera inside the car, and the simulation of driving through floodwaters began.

Rescue crews arrived on scene and assessed the situation. It was determined divers would be needed.

"Diving is the single most dangerous thing we do," Lt. Joe Wiener with the Knight Township Fire Dept. said. "It's more dangerous than running into a burning building and trying to put the fire out. There are so many problems that can happen with our equipment."

The dive crew was then briefed on the mock situation.

A car was reported in the river and it was not known if anyone was trapped inside.

The team went through their pre-dive checklist.

"We got a plan," Lt. Wiener said. "We record everything as far as what time the diver goes in the water, how much air he has when he goes into the water. We check his air level every five minutes."

Time is critical for the theoretical victims.

Just 30 seconds from entering the river, water began to enter the car. Less than 2.5 minutes later, water was above the front seats and almost covering the outside of the windows. The pressure would make it nearly impossible to escape if someone was inside. Only 20 seconds later, the car was submerged, and seven seconds after that: total darkness.

In less than 3.5 minutes, the car vanished.

The car in the simulation was fully submerged, but was tethered to a tow truck, so it wasn't going to float away, but of course, that would not be the situation if it was a real emergency.

Divers did not know what to expect at this point, that's why they do these trainings.

They've got checklists.

It's a very dangerous situation, so something they need to take very seriously and that's what unfolded.

The Knight Township Fire Department practices water rescues twice a month on various waterways, including rivers, lakes and even swimming pools.

In Monday night's scenario, a boat was dispatched with sonar equipment to try and locate the car.

"If it's a solid black, that shows density," Knight Township Deputy Chief Scott Foreman said. "If it's a solid black boomerang with white underneath, that shows something dense on top with air underneath it."

The diver then hooked up the car and Tri-State Towing reeled it in.

Of course, there were no victims in the simulation, but the team knew the odds wouldn't have been good for the driver if it were real.

The bottom line: driving through flooded roads, no matter how well you think you know the situation, can be a deadly decision, and a dangerous one for rescue crews.

WFIE wants to thank the Knight Township Fire Department and Tri-State Towing and Recovery for their help in this report.

©2010 WFIE/WMC-TV. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.