Tahlequah Daily Press

August 13, 2013

Firefighters train for water rescue

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — jnewton@tahlequahdailypress.com

Not all of the dozen-plus Cherokee County fire departments have a river or lake in their immediate jurisdiction, and some firefighters may never be called to a swift-water rescue.

But the threat is always very real.

“We can’t wait for something bad to happen before we decide to train,” said Spring Valley Fire Chief Ronnie Smith.

“Swift-water training is something all of our fire departments need. All of us have the potential to face high-water situations.”

About 30 fire fighters from across Cherokee County gathered Saturday and Sunday to train with R.B. Ellis, a captain and rescue coordinator with the Tulsa Fire Department.

Ellis explained some of the fundamentals of responding to the scene of a water rescue, and provided local responders with hands-on training.

Some of his information surprised participating fire fighters.

“What’s the No. 1 injury in and around the water?” Ellis asked.

Many of the participants assumed head and neck injuries are most common.

“Shoulder and upper arm,” Ellis said, before talking with the fire fighters about how to approach victims and get them safely back to shore.

Head and neck injuries – often related to shallow-water diving – account for the second most-common injuries around the water, Ellis said.

Training was paid for through tax dollars allotted to county fire departments. Smith said the training should cost around $5,000.

Fire departments are given a handful of guaranteed spots and can choose who participates in the training. While a few departments were unable to participate, most were represented.

“Swift-water rescue can happen in any county and in any jurisdiction – there doesn’t have to be a lake or river nearby,” said Gideon Fire Chief Marty Kimble.

“Any of the little creeks and streams around here can swell during a storm, and if someone drives out into it, we’re going to be the first to respond. We may not go out and do the full-blown, swift-water rescue, but we might be able to save somebody with rope training and other skills the training teaches.”

Kimble said participants in the training often learn what not to do when responding to high- or swift-water scenarios.

“This training is also good for retention of volunteers,” he said.

“They enjoy the class and it helps to train them, but it also builds camaraderie between fire departments.”