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MSHP report: Boone County assistant fire chief drowned after boat ‘swamped with water’ tipped over

WATCH: Boone County Fire Protection District Chief Scott Olsen and Assistant Chief Gale Blomenkamp held a press conference Monday after Assistant Chief Matt Tobben died during a water rescue operation Monday morning.
Fallen Boone County Assistant Fire Chief to be escorted back to hometown in procession
Courtesy Boone County Fire Protection District
Jacquelynn Tobben and Matt Tobben
Matt Tobben Union (1)
Courtesy Union Fire Protection District
Matt Tobben, (of the Boone County Fire Protection District, but is seen pictured here as a Union Fire Department member) died during a water rescue on Monday morning.
Screenshot 2024-07-08 at 10.20.36 PM
A small memorial consisting of flowers and candles were placed outside the Boone County Fire Protection District's Headquarters on Monday, July 8, 2024.


A Boone County firefighter died Monday morning during a water rescue in north Columbia.

Boone County Fire Protection District Assistant Fire Chief Matthew Tobben, 42, died while assisting the Columbia Fire Department in a water rescue effort, Boone County Fire Protection District Chief Scott Olsen said.

CFD first responded to the call around 4:30 a.m. at Range Line Street and Bear Creek and called on Boone County Fire for mutual aid, officials said during a press conference.

Olsen said Tobben, a CFD firefighter and two people being rescued were on a Boone County water rescue boat when the boat lost power and overturned, throwing people out of the boat.

The three other people were rescued, but Tobben never resurfaced.

A drowning report from the Missouri State Highway Patrol stated the boat the four people were riding in – a 2008 Zodiac FC420 – became “swamped with water” after it lost power. The water caused all four people to be ejected from the boat, the report states. The report states the boat tipped at 4:17 a.m.

The report describes Tobben as the driver of the boat and lists three passengers:

  • Columbia firefighter Derek Abbott, 36, of Fulton
  • Paige Pace, 29 of Columbia
  • Charlie Resonno, 38, of Columbia

Abbott had no reported injuries, while Pace and Resonno each had minor injuries, the report states. All three were released at the scene, according to the report.

Blomenkamp said Tobben tried to grab a tow line that was thrown to him. He said Tobben's life jacket and helmet were found floating downstream, but it's not known if Tobben took them off himself or if they were pushed off by the water.

However, Blomenkamp said it's "not uncommon for rescue swimmers to shed their life jackets if they need to." However, Blomenkamp reiterated it may never be known if it was intentionally taken off.

An ABC 17 News reporter on scene saw a white van pull out of the area around 10:30 a.m. and drive South on Rangeline with a large police escort. Blomenkamp confirmed this was Tobben being taken to the medical examiner's office.

The scene cleared around 11 a.m. after a truck and trailer pulled out a water rescue boat.

Nearly 20 Boone County Fire, Boone County Sheriff, Columbia Police, Columbia Fire and Missouri State Highway Patrol vehicles were on scene.

Blomenkamp said the cause of the boat's power outage is being investigated by the Missouri State Highway Patrol Water Patrol.

He said in a press conference Monday that no one was more qualified for these water rescues than Tobben.

"He taught swift water boat operations," Blomenkamp said. "He's the guy that taught people how to do what he was doing this morning, and so there wouldn't be anybody more credentialed, anyone more responsible to do the work that was being done this morning."

Blomenkamp said Tobben had just started his position as Director of Training with the department on May 1.

Before then, Tobben had spent 19 years with the Union, Missouri, fire department and also served 12 years with Missouri Task Force 1.

"He'd do anything for you," Blomenkamp said. "All you had to do was ask and he was always willing to help. He never turned down the opportunity to run that call, to make that rescue, to be involved."

Tobben leaves behind a wife and two children, Blomenkamp said.

Boone County Fire Assistant Chief Matt Tobben. [Photo courtesy Boone County Fire Protection District]

One man who lives near Bear Creek, Demetrios Calhoun, said the floodwaters along Bear Creek Monday morning were the most intense he'd ever seen.

"There was nothing we could do with that water rushing that high like that," Calhoun said. "I've never seen, in six years here, that water rushing like that."

Blomenkamp said Tobben is the second line-of-duty death for the Boone County Fire Protection District since Assistant Chief Bryant Gladney died in 2021.

The Columbia Fire Department wrote on its Facebook page that it was called to multiple water rescues at 3:45 a.m. Monday.

"The Columbia Fire Department will forever be grateful for Assistant Chief Tobben’s bravery and dedication to the community. We ask that you please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers during this extremely difficult time," the post reads.

Several water rescues have occurred over the past week, including one in Boone County on Wednesday on Gillespie Bridge Road, where a woman died after a vehicle was swept away in floodwater. Iveta Thayer, 81, of Columbia, was found dead on Friday morning.

Blomenkamp said Tobben rescued the driver of the vehicle that was swept away on Gillespie Bridge Road on Wednesday.

President of the Fire Fighters Association of Missouri Larry Jennings said performing a water rescue, no matter a person's training experiences is difficult. Jennings said one of the biggest challenges rescuers face is the current of the water moving, due to the rainfall, which puts debris in the water that can go unseen.

"That in and of itself is pretty dangerous because now you've got that thing pushing against you along with the currents," Jennings said. "But, then trying to navigate with a boat in debris filled waters becomes very problematic because of running into those items that you can't see."

Jennings said the training that goes into water and rescue is intense, and is different from obtaining a Missouri boater's license. He said training consists of boat operator courses and specialized training on a river.

Jennings also noted a course offered through the University of Missouri that focuses on "rescuer in the water training" that gives people experience in saving someone from water.

During Monday morning's incident, the boat Tobben was on lost power. Jennings said this becomes problematic because of the current.

"It's one of those issues that if you don't have power...the same way with any boater on any body of water, if you lose power, then you're subject to the current and it's a whole lot harder to control," Jennings said.

Rain has consistently fallen in Mid-Missouri since Wednesday, with another round expected on Tuesday.

Blomenkamp said the department is aware of the possibility of more rescues in the coming days. He said despite Monday's tragic loss, the department remains focused on saving lives.

"One rescuer, one civilian in the last six days, five days never makes it easy," Blomenkamp said. "But, we're prepared and we work for rains again tomorrow (Tuesday) we could be doing these same type of rescues again tomorrow and hopefully we have a much better outcome."

The Missouri Fire Service Funeral Assistance Team wrote on its Facebook page on Monday night that a small procession for Tobben will occur Tuesday from Columbia to Union.

The post states that the procession will leave Columbia at 10:15 a.m.

"Tentative departure time from Columbia, Mo is 10:15 and the procession will travel Interstate 70 to Highway 47 toward Union. The procession will turn on Independence Drive then onto Church Street to Oltmann Funeral Home," the post reads. "Public Safety Agencies are requested to be present on overpasses and along the procession route, staging in a safe place. US Flags are welcome for display, those with large flags should be mindful of the weather conditions."

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