Reunion on dry ground Flood victim thanks her rescuers
By: STEPHEN SEEBER Record Express Staff, Staff Writer
Saving Alicia Estabrook and her 18-month-old daughter Tiffany was a matter of inches and seconds. It was also a matter of faith.
"I couldn’t bear the thought of my other children — Trinity, Cynthia and Kevin — never being able to play with their little sister again, or me not being able to raise my children," recalled the young mother when she met with her heroes at the Brickerville fire hall Monday night. "When I realized that the chances were slim to none that I was going to get out of there, I just kept praying and reassuring myself that if it’s God’s will for me and Tiffany to live, he would make a way. I didn’t know how, but I knew that he would make a way."
On Sept. 8, during Tropical Storm Lee, Estabrook and her daughter, along with several other motorists, became trapped in Hammer Creek flood waters along Route 322 in Elizabeth Township. Dianne Barron of Lebanon was swept away and drowned in her car. All Estabrook could do was sit on her roof with her baby and watch the tragic scene unfold. After more than an hour of failed rescue attempts, five Brickerville firefighters had an idea — drive a bulldozer into the raging rapids and get Alicia and Tiffany to safety. The rescue team included Wilmer Musser, Jeff Strauss, Matt Sherk, Larry Eckert and Dan Hogan. As they entered the water by unconventional means, they had no idea that they were surrounded by sinkholes, 16 inches on each side, that would have capsized the effort. And just as the dozer arrived, Estabrook’s car started to wash away in what could have been a fate similar to that of the Barron tragedy. But with seconds to spare, the bucket of the bulldozer was able to stabilize the flooded vehicle.
"Nothing else was working at the time," recalled Musser, who owns Musser Excavating. "I offered to use my bulldozers. They (a rescue team on site) said no way. Eventually they changed their mind. I’m just thankful we got out safely."
"Wilmer Musser, Larry Eckert. I have 100 percent faith in those men when it comes to heavy equipment," said Sherk. "When they said we can do this, my faith was there."
On Monday, Estabrook and her entire family, along with friends, met with their heroes at the firehouse.
"I want to express my gratitude to everyone who was there that night," she said. "Most people don’t go out of their way to do things for others, even people they know. So when someone does something so great as to put their life on the line, just for a chance to save somebody else, I think that’s wonderful. It takes a lot of courage."
She recounted the story, sitting on the roof of her car with Tiffany (who slept through much of the ordeal) amid rising water. The rescuers were trying, but they just couldn’t reach her. The water was too high and too fast.
"I remember thinking, ‘I don’t blame them. It’s too dangerous for anyone to go out in that water.,’" she said. "I know the decision to authorize these men to go out there and do what they did must have been a tough decision."
With tears in her eyes, she said, "I kept telling Tiffany that night, ‘We’re going to be with Trinity and Cynthia and Kevin. I kept telling her, we’re going to be with them.’ And I’m just so happy because, thanks to you guys, I get to be with them. Your wives and families must be so proud to have you in their lives, and I’m also very thankful that you were able to come home to them that night.
"I want you to know that I will forever remember all of you."
After Trinity presented the firefighters with a homemade thank you card, the humble heroes spent some time talking with the family and agreed to exchange Christmas cards.
The extraordinary effort was summed up in true volunteer fashion.
"We did what we had to do," said Strauss. More THANK YOU, page A5