The snow may have been falling and the water may have been freezing, but that didn’t stop firefighters from Eastside Fire and Rescue and the Woodinville Fire Department from taking the plunge and floating through their swiftwater rescue drills last Friday.
About 25 firefighters took part in the Advanced Swiftwater Training, a three-day session crammed into two days. This class is the continuation of the basic class, which was held in November.
One of the first things practiced was setting up secure anchors for the firefighters’ lines.
“You teach them how to make anchors and pile on rocks (to secure it),” Firefighter Rick Reynolds said. “It’s kinda a MacGyver thing.”
The group practiced setting up anchors alongside the shore as they sent firefighters along ropes downstream at 45 degree angles. The firefighters then had to practice letting the water’s current push them to their destination.
“You turn your body 45 degrees ‘river-right’ or ‘river-left,’” Firefighter Chris Ducey said. “You want to angle towards the way you want to go.”
Eastside Fire and Rescue typically has three to five water rescues each year, Reynolds said.
“It’s usually right after school gets out,” Ducey said, noting that many times the victims have been drinking.
During last year’s training, the crew got some extra practice as a family needed rescuing during the drills.
“The river doesn’t look so bad until you get cold,” Reynolds said.
The river isn’t cold enough in some cases. Because the water doesn’t get as cold as say, the Midwest in winter, firefighters have to act quickly. Unlike other places in the country, where it is possible to hear of a drowning victim being resuscitated after a long period of time, here in the Northwest every minute counts.
“Cold water drowning buys time,” Reynolds said. “But here, it doesn’t get that cold so you really don’t have more than 10 minutes.”
Rescuing can be just as dangerous for the firefighters as it is for the victim. An important part of these trainings is teaching the firefighters respect for the river and learning not to fight it, as well as how to get oneself out of a dangerous situation. This can include swift currents and strainers — logs that catch both victims and rescuers and suck them under unless they knew how to self extricate.
The training also included some “live-bait training,” where firefighters throw a robe to a victim who is caught in the current. The victims in this case were other firefighters who gamely jumped in the cold water and rode out the rapids.
“You know when you see them coming down the current and stop,” Reynolds said. “You know that’s a bad thing.”
That bad thing usually means the firefighter was lucky enough to find an underwater rock.
Firefighters use the ropes to pull the victims to safety. This is often the first step in rescues, when the victim is still aware enough to aid in their own rescue. It is also one of the safest for the rescuers. However throwing the throw bag (which adds weight) and rope just right, landing it either on or slightly in front of the victim takes practice.
“If you don’t throw it just right,” Reynolds said. “It catches on your hand and just goes straight up.”
Later, after dark, the group practiced night searches in the water using dummies.
Kyra Low can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 391-0363, ext. 5050.