The lived experience of rescuing people who have driven into floodwater: Understanding challenges and identifying areas for providing support
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Background: Drowning is a major public health issue, with risk increasing during times of flood. Driving into floodwater is a major risk factor for flood‐related drowning and injury, and despite widespread public health campaigns, many people continue to undertake this risky behaviour and require rescue. Purpose: We aimed to identify key challenges faced by emergency services personnel when rescuing those who have driven into floodwater, and to identify strategies for supporting rescuers in this important role. Methods: Australian flood rescue operators (N = 8) who had previously rescued a driver who had driven into floodwater participated in semi‐structured interviews. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. Results: Four challenges emerged from their experiences: involvement of untrained personnel; varying information provided by emergency telephone operators; behaviour of drivers complicating the rescue; people sightseeing floods or flood rescues or ignoring closed roads providing rescuers with sources of distraction and frustration. Conclusions: We propose five strategies for translating these results into practice, including: training and protocol development for (i) emergency personnel and (ii) telephone operators; (iii) training for rescuers regarding non‐compliant rescuees; (iv) educating the public and (v) increasing compliance with closed roads. Current findings provide valuable insights into how rescuers can be supported in performing their roles, and implementation of these strategies has the potential to reduce fatalities occurring due to attempting to drive through floodwater. So what? The strategies presented have the potential to reduce the frequency and improve the outcomes of floodwater rescues, aiding in the prevention of injury and death.
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