Off-Duty Firefighter Drowns

Off-Duty Firefighter Drowns

Daily Oklahoman 
15 Aug. 1997
by Robert Medley
Rescuers found the body of an off-duty Oklahoma City firefighter who drowned Thursday (Aug 14th) evening while water-skiing at Lake Stanley Draper, police officer Chris Cunningham said.

The firefighters's wife was pulling him behind a boat in Barefoot Cove on the southeast side of the lake about 7:30 p.m., Cunningham said.

Cunningham said authorities did not release the name of the drowning victim.

The victim's wife said the firefighter went under while skiing and did not resurface, Cunningham said.

Fire and police rescuers, including divers, searched late Thursday for the firefighter, Cunningham said.

Rescuers used searchlights after dark trying to find the man's body, Cunningham said.

Firefighters found the man's body about 9:45 p.m.

I personally saw the 10pm news on OKC channel 9 on August 14th (moments after the body was found) and they distinctly said he was wearing a "life vest" while he was skiing. Yet they showed divers in the water. We will continue to follow this story - it is very rare for a person to sink while wearing a "life vest". Perhaps it came off when he hit the water? Perhaps he was in very excellent condition (fireman), was knocked out when he hit the water and took in water. Low body fat people are much heavier in the water (they do not displace as much water which is where buoyancy comes from.)??

The later report below sheds some light on the subject, says it was a "wet suit with a built-in life vest". We will see if we can learn more about the situation.

At 2 to 5 mm in thickness, normal wetsuits increase your floatation. We found a quote on the page, "In addition, wearing a wetsuit is like having two life jackets on, it will increase your floatation, especially for your lower body." Some skiers use the shorty suits that are cutoff at the knee - don't yet know about this instance. That would reduce this lower body flotation they are talking about.

We found one wake board suit online called a Fly High that says "This revolutionary Wakeboard Wetsuit gives the rider the sleek high tec appearance they desire. It offers floatation and protection especially for falls when learning aerial tricks. Approved floatation for wakeboard tournaments." I want to be sure to point out that we do not yet know if this was the suit involved, we only assume that is was a suit of this nature.

We found the World Wakeboard Association online wonder if they might be the ones approving the suits/vests for competition? We left a message for them Saturday 16th.

We visited with a California distributor of the "Fly High" suit August 16th. They felt it should float anybody and had not heard of any problems with it. When I pressed them about it floating a heavy very well conditioned (low bodyfat) person they responded with the person needs to take some accountability for themselves (be certain the suit will float them) and that very large people have difficulty with wakeboards. Wakeboarding is a small to normal sized person activity. That certainly makes some sense. I did some research on surfboards a couple years ago and it has similar difficulties for larger people (the boards don't float folks over 180 pounds or so). They referred me to the World Wakeboard Assoc. as a possible source for specs on suits of this nature. I told them we already had a call into them.

Another RBBI thought - they probably don't make floating wet suits for giant people.

We found a buoyancy compensator for divers that mentions the problems they have with buoyancy from a wetsuit (they are trying to go down)." ... features a high-floatation, high-volume aircell to provide precise buoyancy control, even when you're wearing extra weight to compensate for a full wetsuit."

Saturday 16th we called the OKC fire department and made arrangements to visit with them Monday 18th about some technical aspects of what happened.

Firefighters Grieve Loss of One of Their Own

Daily Oklahoman
Saturday 08/16/1997 
By Diane Plumberg
Tragic death was not something new to rescue workers. But when tragedy took one of their own this week, some Oklahoma City firefighters were shocked.

''When they recognized it was one of our guys, they called ... this station and they called me,'' Maj. Bob Buckner said from fire station No. 33.

''I couldn't hardly believe that there wasn't some kind of mistake.''

It turned out there was no mistake. The body firefighters found submerged in Stanley Draper Lake was that of Scott Wheeler, a 27-year-old firefighter in Oklahoma City.

One of the biggest shocks was that Wheeler died doing something he knew how to do.

While skiing Thursday with a friend in Barefoot Cove at the southeast Oklahoma City lake, Wheeler fell and never resurfaced.

The boat's driver, Shawn Akers, told Oklahoma City police that Wheeler was trying a new trick on his ''boogie board'' when he hit the water face first.

He said Wheeler normally signaled with his hand that he was OK, but he didn't this time.

Akers saw Wheeler fall and turned the boat around to retrieve him, Assistant Fire Chief Jon Hansen said.

Hansen said Wheeler's friend and three others from another boat jumped into the water to look for Wheeler.

When they couldn't find him, his Patricia, who was waiting on the shore, called for help.

His body was found two hours later in eight feet of water not far from where he went under. Wheeler was flown to Integris Southwest Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

Hansen said Wheeler was wearing a wet suit with a built-in life vest.

Funeral services for Wheeler of the Harvest, 6800 N Bryant Ave. He will be buried in south Oklahoma City.

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