Water-Related Missing Persons Operations


Water-related incidents can cover a wide variety of emergency calls. Some fire departments may have a specialized rescue team that handles water responses, whereas other departments may have a regional or state team that can be called in to assist with these types of calls. Working at a special operations fire station that is tasked with responding to water-related emergencies, drowning, and evidence recoveries for almost a decade, our department has developed a few rules that work for us. This article will touch on just one part of water-related calls: what the first-arriving company can do when members arrive on a scene of a missing person in the water. This will also cover information that can be gathered and passed on to a water recovery team that is responding to your scene.


Here is a very real scenario. You are on duty and get a call to a large pond with reports of a swimmer in trouble. Upon arrival you are met by a frantic and screaming witness who directs you to an area by the water where two other people are staring across the water with tears on their face. As you look across the water, you see that the water is still—no bubbles, no waves, and no sign of any victim. What do you do now? What is your department’s policy? The witnesses quickly tell you that there was a child swimming across the pond and all of a sudden he started struggling, went under water, and has not yet surfaced. Now you know you may have a drowning. Who do you call for a body recovery? Does your department have a dive team? Will a regional or statewide team be deployed to your location? What information and actions can you do right now that will help to mitigate this incident?

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