Swift Water Rescue class prepares firefighters for river season
On an average year, Truckee Fire Protection District personnel will respond to more than 10 swift water rescue incidents in Truckee area streams and rivers.
Lt. Craig Harvey said that last year TFPD responded to between 15 and 20 swift water rescues, and in 1998 approximately 30 rescues. The number could not be verified as records were temporarily lost due to computer errors.
During the Flood of 1997, rescue personnel responded to at least 30 swift water incidents in one day on Jan. 1.
Being prepared to enter waters that are moving rapidly takes training, strength and knowledge about river flows and currents. Many rescues also involve extensive rope work, Harvey said.
“It’s very man-power intensive,” he said.
Harvey, who teaches the Swift Water Rescue class that certifies local firefighters in the state of California, held this year’s class this past weekend. TFPD personnel trained out in the Truckee River off Glenshire Drive Saturday to practice survival swimming, swimming with an unconscious swimmer as well as using a net rescue, rope guns, zip lines and line crossing. Harvey has been teaching the class with Lt. Steve Tennant since 1995.
“A lot of the training is survival and how to rescue yourself,” Harvey said. “We do a lot of emphasis on survival swimming.”
The class not only trains firefighters with new rescue equipment, but it helps improve their confidence in the water, he said.
Most swift water rescue calls occur during the late spring and summer when warm weather brings people out to the rivers. It is also the time when river flows are up from spring run-off. The majority of rescues result from novice recreational river users, Harvey said.
“If it’s a good run-off like now, we’ll start getting more calls,” Harvey said. “The weather is nice and more people are coming to the rivers.”
Earlier this week, the Truckee River was reported flowing 1,199 cfs at Farad.
“It’s not that high, but enough to get someone in trouble,” Harvey said.
Most of the victims in swift water accidents are unprepared individuals who are not using common sense, he said. Typically, it’s not the experienced kayakers who need to be rescued.
“Kayakers often don’t get in trouble because they know about how the water works,” he said. “They have flotation devices, helmets and thermal protection.”
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