While the fire department may conduct the actual rescue, the swift-water rescue often is a unified response. Police often secure the perimeter and shut down roads with rising waters. EMS may be on scene to provide medical attention to anyone in need. Public works could be responsible for setting up barricades. Each of the responder disciplines has a role to perform and a number of responders may find themselves in close proximity to swift-moving water.
Are you prepared? Is your department prepared? When was the last time you had swift-water awareness training? The following are some suggestions on how to keep your people safe around moving water.
Things to be aware of:
Most responder swift water-related injuries happen within 10 feet of the water’s edge due to the shoreline being slippery and unstable. Any responder within this area should be in the proper personnel protective equipment. At a minimum, that means a personal flotation device and a swift water helmet. Bunker gear is not advisable when working around swift water environment. If you fall in, the heavy clothing quickly can weigh you down.
Water levels can rise quickly. Heavy rains many miles away can cause creeks or rivers to rise in a matter of minutes, catching personnel off guard. Always maintain situational awareness and monitor your surroundings.
Train and practice:
No responder should enter the water unless he or she is trained to the swift-water technician level and working as part of a trained, swift-water rescue team.
Rope throw bags are a vital component in any swift-water rescue. One good thing about throw bags is you do not have to be in a water environment to effectively train with them. Practicing may not be very exciting — or even fun — but be creative with your training. Training can be turned it into a competition by getting a few hula hoops and making a golf course. You can have par 1 and par 2 holes. Or, try throwing into a trash can and awarding two points for a bag that lands in the can and one point for a rope that lands across it.
You also need to practice throwing at moving targets. Be creative and find something that you can pull in front of the bag thrower.
The Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) offers various swift-water rescue courses to prepare first responders for this type of incident. The swift-water awareness course is designed for any responder who could be on scene of a water rescue and can be offered in your town or city. The operations and technician level courses teach offensive rescue techniques and prepare responders to work as part of a team to retrieve victims trapped in a swift water situation. This course is taught on the fast moving waters of the Comal River in New Braunfels, Texas.
Keith Brown is an adjunct instructor for the TEEX US&R Division. He is a swift-water instructor for the awareness, operations and technician level courses. A full-time firefighter with Austin Fire Department, Brown works on in the Special Operations Battalion. He currently is assigned as a logistics manager on the Blue Team, as well as water rescue squad manager on Texas Task Force One (TX-TF1). Brown has responded to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and participated in multiple water team deployments throughout Texas. He has been a member of TX-TF1 since 2003.
About TEEX: The Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) is a member of the Texas A&M University System and offers hands-on, customized first-responder training, homeland security exercises, technical assistance and technology transfer services impacting Texas and beyond. TEEX programs include fire services, homeland security, law enforcement, public works, safety and health, search and rescue and economic development.