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Water rescue training helps firefighters prepare for emergencies

Water rescue training helps firefighters prepare for emergencies

October 19th, 2017 by Jeff Haldiman in Local News

Personnel from seven different agencies participated in this week's Boat Rescue Technician training offered by the University of Missouri Fire Rescue Training Institute. The training, which runs through today, consists of swift-water rescue techniques where boat operators learn how to operate, transport and safely handle the boat. Firefighters from the Jefferson City Fire Department are among the seven agencies in training.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

Local firefighters have been involved in several rescues of people stranded in vehicles or along the banks of lakes and rivers over the last few years.

Many fire agencies have boats, but their crews do not have the specific skills to recognize their operating limitations.

To hone their skills, 31 firefighters, including a group from the Jefferson City Fire Department, have been practicing on the Missouri River.

The training is offered every year during the University of Missouri Summer Fire School, but due to high demand a second class is taking place this week.

"What we're doing is showing how to maneuver boats around so they can get to victims," said Kevin Zumwalt, interim director of the University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Training Institute.

"What we tell people is being able to drive your bass boat on the weekend doesn't mean you can drive the fire department boat the same way," he said. "If you're not planning to be in the water, you shouldn't be on the water."

Officials said the techniques shown in this training are similar to what crews do in swift-water rescue training, where they practice skills like tying and using ropes in rescue situations.

This course, which has been taught to fire personnel internationally, involves whitewater rafting skills with participants learning launching procedures, what happens when a boat flips and righting it, as well as high-speed turns and pick-ups. Instructors teach emergency personnel to evaluate every situation, make decisions quickly and create multiple plans that can adapt to changing conditions.

"One of the main things we're teaching here is how to use the boat as a rescue platform and being able to navigate around debris, which you see a lot of in the river," Zumwalt said.

They went out on the river Wednesday night so participants could learn what to do in that scenario, Zumwalt said.

As recently as 2011, the National Weather Service reported a yearly average of 92 flood-related deaths since 1981. That surpasses the annual averages of 56 deaths from tornadoes and 55 from lightning.

"It's all about knowing the limits of your boat and what it is capable of doing," Zumwalt said. "When they're called out to do a rescue, it's usually not in the best conditions and usually lives are at stake, so we train to go into that. Although the Missouri River may not right now produce the flash flooding scenarios we'd see on small streams and rivers, it's still a good training prop because the current is fast so you get the feel of what it's like operating in moving water."