Roanoke County Fire and Rescue saves man trapped in tree by flooding

Man was swept away near Penn Forest Elementary School

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – The rain came down fast and furious in the early afternoon hours, and suddenly the intersection of Starkey Road and Merriman in Roanoke County was impassable. The area, which does not typically flood, was covered by angry floodwaters that created waves where there is usually only pavement. 

As rapids filled the normally busy intersection only a hundred yards from Penn Forest Elementary school, people thought they could hear cries for help.  They in turn called the fire department.

"I believe we had units in the area. And they had reports of someone yelling for help," said Bill Duff, battalion chief for Roanoke County Fire and Rescue.

The swift water rescue team arrived with a boat, but team members weren't sure of the best way to get to the man, who had climbed a tree to escape the water.

Ultimately, they were able to park a fire truck on solid ground and extend a ladder in his direction.
From there, a first responder crossed the ladder, and returned with the man a few minutes later, who was wet and tired but otherwise OK. 

He identified himself as John Rowland.

Rowland said he had been yelling for help for about an hour.

Rowland explained that he had been trying to help a friend when he was swept away.

"I was trying to tell him to come on back, and I was going in to get him, but he already jumped out, and then water just washed me down ... I swam a little bit. I grabbed a tree and held onto the tree until the help came," Rowland said.