Firefighters Regularly Train for Water Rescues

The chance of flooding raises concerns about more rescues

With North Texas expected to receive anywhere from a half-inch to three inches of rain between now and Wednesday, flooding remains a big concern across the area.

In recent days, there have been numerous flood-related rescue calls from Johnson County in the south to Denton and Wise Counties in the north. Those rescues have been conducted by both helicopter and boat, as well as on top of fire trucks.

They've become an all too familiar scene in the area after what has been an extremely rainy spring, but at Tarrant County College's Fire Service Training Center, they're almost a daily occurrence either through coursework or a rental of their swift water training facility.

"We practice for people’s worst days and unfortunately, it happens," said Rodney Smith, coordinator for FSTC. "So we want our first responders to effectively get out there and conduct that rescue safely."

On Tuesday, members of the Round Rock Fire Department practiced everything from the typically used "throw bags" to a more advanced "catch curtain" to rescue team members acting as victims. The idea is to get victims in the water to safety with minimal risk to the rescuers.

"And that (the ropes) will allow him to swing into the calmer waters on river left," said Michael Boyd of Round Rock Fire.

The group practicing and training this week isn't apart of Round Rock's technical rescue team, rather they're mostly engine-based firefighters.

"Because more than likely they’re going to be on scene before our specialty guys and they’ll be the ones who actually affect the rescue before we arrive," Boyd said.

"The swift water team is basically for the first call," Smith said. "And then the 15 after that the engine companies and first responders are the ones who respond."

Smith says the training center believes every first responder, firefighters, police and EMTs should know how to conduct themselves in swift water because they will likely be called upon before specialty teams can arrive.

Whoever conducts the rescue, throwing ropes will be the tool they'll use most often.

"That’s our number one thing we want to do," Boyd said. "We want to get into the water as little as we possibly can and if we do get in the water, we want to be in a boat."

Getting into the water is a last resort, according to Smith.

Instructors say the first method of rescue is to try and get the victim to self-rescue, find a way to safely get to shore without risking further peril themselves or to rescuers. The second method will be to use throw bags, where a firefighters or rescuer throws a rope at the victim and then a team pulls him or her in once they've grabbed that rope.

The third level of rescue is now to use rescue helicopters, if they're available. The only time rescuers should enter the water is if it's wade-able, in other words there's no current that could knock the rescuer down. Firefighters also shouldn't wear their fire gear while trying to rescue someone.

The training center trains 700 to 800 firefighters a year in swift water rescue.

This are all skills firefighters say they need to train on, but they hope never to use them. They continue to preach the message not to drive or walk through flooded waters and the saying "turn around, don't drown."

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