Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

May 8, 2014

River rescue

OHP troopers help volunteer firefighters train with airboats

TAHLEQUAH — When tourists flock to the scenic Illinois River every summer, volunteer firefighters often respond to six or more calls a day requiring the use of an airboat.

The Illinois River Area Volunteer Fire Department’s airboat helps first responders find those in need in a fraction of the time it might otherwise take them.

“We might respond to anything from a missing person to traumatic injuries,” said volunteer firefighter Eric Butler.

Jerry Hammons, a department board member and volunteer firefighter, said the agency previously had only a couple of responders who could operate the airboat.

“My objective was to have around six or seven operators functional, ready to go for rescues,” said Hammons.

Hammons and firefighters Ken Rystedt, Robert Crawford, Eric Butler and Sonny Torres have spent several days this week training with more than a dozen troopers from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Troopers from around the state brought five of the state’s airboats to the river, and spent hours showing Illinois River firefighters the ins and outs of safe operating.

OHP troopers were also training to safely use the devices.

“I think every one of us feels more comfortable now,” Rystedt said Wednesday afternoon.

Three other firefighters have trained in-house for several days, getting familiar with the airboat, Hammons said.

“Airboats can be dangerous,” said Hammons. “We’ve learned to get around objects, we’ve rolled over logs, gone through brush piles, gone over gravel bars. Now we have enough trained pilots to take care of our calls.”

The Illinois River VFD responds with its airboat when requested by the Cherokee County 911 dispatchers, according to Hammons.

jnewton@tahlequahdailypress.com

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