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Fire Official Drowns While Rescuing Flash Flood Victims

A mid-Missouri firefighter drowned while rescuing two people from flash flooding Monday, according to a statement.

Boone County Fire Protection District (BCFD) Deputy Chief Matthew Tobben drowned when his inflatable rescue boat capsized while assisting the Columbia Fire Department (CFD) in an early morning rescue effort, Fire Chief Scott Olsen said. SaidThe two evacuees and one CFD firefighter were rescued and are “OK,” Olsen said.

The rescue boat lost power and firefighters from Tobben and the Canadian Fire Service were called in to help, Canadian Fire Service deputy chief Gail Blomenkamp told reporters. according to The boat drifted and possibly struck debris, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune, before capsizing and throwing all four people on board overboard, the paper reported.

Blomenkamp told reporters that Tobben had tried to grab a tow line in the water but was unsuccessful. KSDK News footage Blomenkamp said rescuers later found Tobben's life jacket and helmet floating downstream, but it was unclear whether he had thrown them off or whether they had been swept away by the water. (Related article: Death toll reaches 149, more than 2 million affected by severe floods)

Blomenkamp was quoted as saying Tobben's death was “a huge blow to the community and the fire service” and that “there was no one more highly trained for this type of situation than Matt Tobben.”

Tobben has been with BCFD's Missouri Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1 since 2012 and has served with the Union Fire Department in Missouri for 19 years, performing search and rescue missions across the country, Blomenkamp said, her voice breaking with emotion.

“He was just recently hired as our training director. He actually started on May 1, so two months is a pretty short period of time. He's been an outstanding employee,” Blomenkamp said.

Tobben reportedly rescued a car driver from floodwaters on May 3.

The Missouri Water Patrol has opened an investigation into Tobben's death, Blomenkamp said.

Tobben's death was the second in a week after heavy rains caused flooding across Boone County, affecting roads and sidewalks, the outlet reported.

Blomenkamp urged caution, reporting, “Flash floods move very quickly. Water can rise and fall quickly. People need to be aware of that and take caution. When we say, 'Turn back, don't drown,' people should.”

Olsen told reporters that Tobben is survived by his wife and two young children.

Olsen announced Tobben's death “with deep sadness,” adding: “Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers at this extremely difficult time.”

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