News and Tribune

June 28, 2013

Fire in the watering hole: Firefighters train for water rescue



After losing his footing, Joe Hurt started moving pretty fast with the current in Silver Creek. The firemen down river from him in a raft had one chance to position themselves perfectly to pull him out safely.

They grabbed his arm, pulled him in and got him ashore just fine.

“It’s moving a lot faster than one would think in Silver Creek,” said Hurt, a Jeffersonville firefighter.

Four fire departments attended swift-water technician training in Clarksville on Thursday. After Wednesday’s storms, the creek rose to about 3 feet with fast-moving currents.

Fire departments from New Albany, Greensburg, Jeffersonville and Jefferson County, Ky., brought about 20 total firefighters to the exercise.

Josh Thompson, deputy chief for the Jeffersonville Fire Department, said with summer here, the danger of water-related incidents increases as more people head to bodies of water to cool off.

“We have a significant amount of potential for water-related incidents, so we need to be able to respond to those,” Thompson said. “Given the area between Clark and Floyd [counties], there’s plenty of opportunity for this kind of situation. Without proper training, it would just be a recipe for disaster.”

Bill Browne, public relations lieutenant for Indiana Conservation Officers, said this spring, 72 river rescues were reported in four of the state’s districts. In Hamilton County, two of those resulted in deaths.

He said it’s easy to underestimate a current in moving water and even easier to lose control once a person falls.

“When people are trying to wade across moving water and they don’t have any floatation on, the loss of footing takes place,” Browne said. “Once your body gets laid down, it becomes difficult to maneuver yourself back to a standing position.”

He said when it comes to moving water, it’s best to stay away.

“Any moving water whatsoever, people underestimate it and its force” Browne said. “And it’s a constant force, so with it moving like that, it can overpower anyone, even the strongest of swimmers. Not respecting it is where people get in trouble.”

Mike Cooper, a firefighter with the New Albany Fire Department, said the training won’t just help firefighters prepare for rescues in bodies of water, but also if towns become flooded.

“What people don’t realize is that this doesn’t just happen on Silver Creek or on the Ohio River,” Cooper said. “This training really comes into play when there’s a lot of flooding in streets.”

Thompson said the training was funded through a Federal Emergency Management Fire Act for about $600,000. He said New Albany, Jeffersonville and Jefferson County partnered together on the grant, but Greensburg’s department was able to get in on the extra seats for the course.

He said firefighters learned rope techniques, how to deal with various water hazards and other training. But he said the grant also funded other training exercises, such as vehicle extrication and confined-space training.

Cooper said firefighters are known for helping when a building is burning, but their training with ropes and other tools comes in handy for a multitude of situations.

“As a firefighter, you have so many different modes,” Cooper said. “You train for fire, you train for wrecks, you train for medical problems and water. Sometimes when you rig your ropes different ways, they behave differently in all of those situations.”