“We were into the call and then we started noticing that there were alligators,” PBCFR Battalion Chief Tracey Adams said. “That right there increases the situation, makes it even worse.”
Divers from PBCFR’s Special Operations team were called to help search the water near NW First Avenue and NW First Street, where a truck had gone through a guardrail into the canal.
“They do hundreds of hours of training throughout year for maybe just one chance to use that skill,” PBCFR District Chief Doug McGlynn said.
McGlynn said diving in canals is one of the most hazardous situations firefighters work in.
“A lot of folks think that fire rescue, that a house fire, inside a burning building would be more dangerous, but it’s not,” he said. “It’s actually in dark, low visibility, no visibility, uncharted waters, jagged metals. There’s vehicles in there.”
“We have high risk. We have darkness. We have a deep canal. A steep, deep, wide canal with possible occupants in there,” Adams said. “Seconds are counting for us and it’s a low frequency call. Not something we run every day.”
Firefighter Paramedic Sam Adler was one of the divers in the water Sunday. He said his crew suits up in the Special Operations truck on their way to a scene, so they’re ready to get in the water right when they arrive. He said they’re trained to search in tough conditions.
“You search by feel on the bottom and as your line tender is directing you in a pattern and kind of telling you which way he wants you to search, you just kind of run into what you’re looking for,” Adler said.
He said alligators are always a risk when diving in canals, but Sunday night was the closest they’ve gotten to him.
“You can hear it over the com system, but you’re so focused on doing your job and completing your mission that you just keep on going,” he said.
Adams said PBSO deputies had to act to protect the divers and potential survivors still in the water from the encroaching gators. She said deputies tried to scare the alligators away first by throwing things into the water, but the alligators didn’t budge.
“They did have to draw their guns and they did have to shoot a few,” she said.
Divers rescued two people from the water. Another person was already on the bank when they arrived on scene. Three people were transported to the hospital
19-year-old Wilson Granajo died in the crash.
PBSO charged 44-year-old Antonio Sanchez with DUI manslaughter.