WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — All this week the Eyewitness News team is taking a look back at the Agnes flood of 1972, the 50 anniversary is Thursday, June 23.
The flood forever changed the landscape and many would even say the psyche of the people who call the Wyoming Valley home. The Agnes disaster was the catalyst for many changes in the valley: one of them being prepared for water rescues.
It is a quiet summer day in Wilkes-Barre, the Susquehanna River is calm, but the people in the boats, the Wilkes-Barre Firefighters, they know how quickly the river can turn into a monster. And in June of 1972, the river broke through the levees in the Wyoming Valley, wreaking havoc in much of the valley.
“So when we know there’s a large storm that’s going to come, preparations begin days ahead of time, and listening to the scientists, the meteorologists predict what we’re going to get, we go into preparation mode,” said Chief Jay Delaney of the Wilkes-Barre Fire Department.
Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney says one of the biggest lessons learned from the Agnes flood was to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Hundreds of people had to be rescued and fires broke out in several buildings.
“We have two water rescue crafts right now. We have one $42,000 water rescue boat that has a jet engine on it. That can go in a low amount of water to get people out of the neighborhood. We can use it to fight a fire if we have to,” explained Chief Jay Delaney, Wilkes-Barre Fire Department.
Chief Delaney says the city fire department knows all too well how fast the river can rise. After Agnes, there were several close calls, including September of 2011.
“Well, we know that the levee will withstand 42.66 feet because that’s where it went to in 2011. Hurricane Ida and Lee we saw then,” added Chief Delaney.
Delaney says they hope for the best but prepare and train for the worst-case scenario.
“And some say why do we have a second boat? Because we are a river community. So you’ll see our firefighters training on the river so they’re proficient with the boats,” said Chief Delaney.
Deputy Fire Chief Alan Klapat trains those firefighters. He says these boats could mean the difference between life and death in a water emergency.
“We have personal floatation devices we have throw bags of rope. So if we can’t get directly to somebody we can throw out a bag of ropes to reach out and grab. We have a backboard that we can float to get someone on a backboard to bring them in,” stated Deputy Chief Alan Klapat, Wilkes-Barre Fire Deptartment.
Klapat says these boats are just as important as fire trucks and ambulances.
“It’s just another tool that we have. We just don’t fight fire, EMS, we do vehicle rescues and this is a very important part of what we do,” added Deputy Chief Klapat.