On April 9, 2015, at approximately 6:10 p.m., Engine and Rescue 112, along with a physical rescue assignment, responded to a reported automobile into the ocean near Berth 73 at the Port of Los Angeles. When Engine and Rescue 112 arrived on scene they saw two adults in the ocean near the dock. Bystanders were also yelling to the firefighters that there were two children trapped in a submerged vehicle.
Without hesitation, FF/PM Miguel Meza removed his boots and work shirt and climbed down the pier ladder alongside the dock and entered the water. He quickly provided a surface rescue of the two adults that were in the water by physically assisting them to the metal ladder.
In a small boat in the water nearby, a civilian was showing Meza the approximate location of the submerged vehicle. The area he directed him to was about 25 feet from the dock and was 24 feet deep.
Once over that location he saw bubbles and despite the visibility in the water being zero, Meza made several attempts to dive to the submerged vehicle.
Fire Boat 5 arrived just a minute and half after 112’s and Boat 1 just 30 seconds after that. FF/PM Meza was instrumental in identifying the exact location of the submerged vehicle to Boat 5 and Boat 1 divers.
Once the Fire Boats arrived on scene, pinpointing the location of the submerged vehicle was critical to the subsequent dive operations. Meza stayed in the water in an effort to assist the divers and even asked Boat 5 for an air supply bottle to make another dive attempt. It took the divers approximately five minutes to bring the first victim to the surface. Meza assisted in getting the child into the litter basket. At this point Meza was pulled out of the water. It would be another ten minutes before the second child was brought to the surface.
The extrication of the children was a complicated operation due to the vehicle being upside down on the ocean floor and resting in two to three feet of muck. The children were also special needs kids who were secured in five-point harness seats in the back seat of the car.
It is significant to note the elements that FF/PM Meza was fighting against in his attempted rescues. He entered into unknown waters from the dock and it is well known that the harbor’s water has very poor visibility. This was made worse by the vehicle striking the floor of the channel causing a tremendous amount of sand and sediment to envelope the vehicle, creating zero-visibility. FF/PM Meza dove to depths of approximately 15 feet in cold water multiple times in his attempt to save the children’s lives. He only stopped diving after the rescue divers took over the operations. Sadly, the children did not survive.
Upon investigation of this incident, the Board of Honorary Awards recommended that FF/PM Miguel Meza receive the Medal of Valor.
It was also recommended that the members of the LAFD dive teams involved in this rescue operation receive Special Commendations for their gallant efforts in retrieving the trapped boys in the zero-visibility conditions. These members are FF John O’Connor (FS 111-B), FF Kenneth Mason (FS 111-B), FF David Brooks (FS 49-B), FF Emilio Russi (FS 110-B), FF John Torres (FS 110-C) and Inspector Gerald Durant (FPB) who working as a diver that day.
Photos courtesy of ABC Action News