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Operation Bezerro Dam: The rupture of the dam and flooding

Category: International Firefighting Team of the Year

Fire department: Corpo de Bombeiros Militar do Estado do Piauí (Brazil)

Operation: Rupture of a damn and flooding

Mission time frame: 08/04/2018 to 20/04/2018

Operation Commander: Commander General BM CEL. Military Firefighter Staff Officer Carlos Frederico Macêdo Mendes

Operation second-in-command: General Second-in-Command Military Firefighter Staff Officer Col. José Leonardo Pacheco Campos Drumond


Activities summary: 

At around 09:00 a.m. the Firefighter Corps Command was informed about the risk of the municipal dam José de Freitas rupturing. After the situation was confirmed, a team headed by the Corps Commander General assembled his first Incident Command System - ICS 01 at 1:00 p.m. in the said municipality. The aim was planning and executing search & rescue operations for the populations, which lived adjacent to the reservoir, as well as those who were located in the drainage path of the 10 million cubic metres of dammed water. 

  1. Threat: at the site, a large crack was observed in the wall of the dam.
  2. Risks: possible risks of this operation included the rupture of the dam and flooding and isolation of the riverside populations.
  3. First actions: were the evacuation of the population and mariners from the risk area. 

After the first hours of operation, the command post was moved at 5:00 p.m. to the Agripina Portela Municipal School, where work continued. The first meeting which took place the same day between the public safety forces present (Piaui State Military Firefighters, CBMEPI) and municipal authorities, the ICS (Incident Command System) under the command of Col. Carlos Frederico – Commander General of the CBMEPI. Then, the tasks of each organisation was specified within the operation. 

The specified tasks forces were: 

  • Brazilian Army – support in the removal from risk areas of the riverside inhabitants located by the military firefighters
  • Military Police and Municipal Guard – blocking of access to risk areas and air support
  • Military Firefighter Corps – Search & Rescue
  • IDEPI (Paiui Development Institute) – inspection of the dam, repairs and measures to reduce risks
  • Civil defence and city hall – community and operation logistical support

Search location, rescue, & evacuation of the riverside communities began that day, and after analysis of the dam situation by IDEPI, widening of the flood plain began.


The Military Firefighter Corps followed-up on the search and rescue activities and the Military Police provided security and isolation of the risk areas. Once located, had the support of the army (37 troops daily in José de Freitas) and the municipal social service agents who assisted in the removal of the population from areas, which were in greatest risk of flooding. 

Risk areas in Jose de Freitas: Assaí, Repouso, Alevantado, Acaré, São Fernandes, Sol Nascente, Boa fé, Todos os Santos, Sobradinho, Alecrim, Tanque, Boa Vista, Malhada de fora, Simpaúba, Lembrada, Jacaré, Várzea Grande, Pai Luiz, Cajueiro, Jatai, Natal, Mandacaré, Altos das Ovelhas, Unha de Gato, Barragem, Saco do Sabino, Pedra de Fogo, Altos dos Onórios, Buritirana and Murici. 



  1. The Military Firefighter Corps followed-up on the search and rescue activities and the Military Police provided security and isolation of the risk areas
  2. Development of new threat. Under great risk of dam rupture, the North-Centre region of the state was ravaged by heavy rains, which made the present scenario more dangerous. The Firefighter Corps was racing against time to protect populations downstream from the dam, a rapid rise in the level of dam water, as well the rivers close to at-risk towns.
  3. Elevation of the operation's risk degree and the potential number of municipalities on imminent danger alert being observed. The ICS commander, Military Firefighter Staff Officer Col. Carlos Frederico, by means of Directive no. 030/2018, assigned officers to the Search and Rescue Operations Command in cities which were at risk of flooding.
  4. Command posts were established in the cities of Barras, Cabeceiras, Esperantina, Joca Marques, Madeiro and Luzilândia. 
  5. Following the opinion of the State Secretary for Civil Defence, the Governor of the State of Piauí declared a state of emergency in the municipalities of José de Freitas, Barras, Cabeceiras, Batalha, Esperantina and Lagoa Alegre. 
  6. Calculated risk decision-making: once it was observed that the flow through the dam was not able to decrease the pressure of the water, at 11:00 p.m. on 10/04/2018, it was decided to open the overflow another 10 metres. Therefore, a good amount was removed from the reservoir's water flow. 


  1. Reduction of the dam's water level in the reservoir determined. A successful action that led to the reduction of pressure on the dam’s wall. Result considered positive and celebrated by the teams involved.
  2. The ICS 01 command post would receive daily updates of all cities in which ICSs remained, with updated numbers from the public bodies involved in the operation, headcount undertaken and numbers of rescued persons and families. 
  3. A meeting was held with the Governor of Piauí, his Excellency Wellington Dias, Col. Carlos Frederico – commander of the ICS presented all information for what was by that time called “Operation Rains 2018”.
  4. The organisations involved followed-up on their respective tasks. The Brazilian Army was present until 11/04/2018 in the city of José de Freitas.
  5. The Military Firefighter Corps continued with search and rescue operations for families, stranded by the flood.
  6. Commander General of the Military Police – PI, Col. Lindomar Castilho authorised the mobilisation of 160 student MP troops to the cities at risk of flooding. The students were under the command of their respective ICS commanders for each city to assist the teams in removal of families who were at risk. 


Search & rescue activities were followed-up on in all cities where ICS command posts were established. Due to the flood situation in the city of Miguel Alves, Military Firefighter Staff Officer 2nd Lieutenant (GIP 10.7199) Pedro Cardoso da Silva Neto was appointed to command rescue operations of that city.


13/04/2018 to 20/04/2018

The search & rescue activities in the city of José de Freitas were ended because IDEPI engineer team verified that the risk of dam rupture situation was eliminated. The SCI 01 command post moved operations to the General Headquarters – Office of the General Headquarters. All information of cities, which were flooded, was sent to Command Post 01.


 Vehicles used: 

  • Fire Engine
  • Helicopter (Secretary of Public Safety)
  • Motor Boats 
  • Administrative Vehicles 


Equipment used:

  • Incident command equipment: Notebook, Markers, White Board, Overhead Projector
  • Operational equipment: Ropes, Life Jackets, Rescue Tube (Floats), Raincoat, Helmets, Spotlight