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Responders practice water rescue

Responders practice water rescue

October 27, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

The somewhat warm temperature in the air was a pleasant surprise for emergency responders taking part in a water rescue course Sunday along Antietam Creek.

There ended the pleasantries, however, as representatives from around the county braved cold water and strong currents as part of the training program.

The three-day Swiftwater Rescue Tech Unit 1 program, sponsored by the University of Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, included training on pre-entry preparation work on rescue tubes, using a line tied to trees across the creek to prevent the tubes from being swept away by the current and one-on-one rescues of victims - both cooperative and uncooperative.

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Washington County Special Operations Team Assistant Chief Steve Schultz said such training is important because many of the water rescue situations literally are a matter of life or death.

"Traditionally, they go out on rescues and use whatever knowledge they have to do the best they can," said Schultz, who attended the course last year. "Here, they get the fundamentals to do it more safely and effectively."

Schultz said techniques taught in the 2002 training session were used in the successful rescue of two men - Russell Smith and James Poole - in June from the area of the Antietam Creek dam near Creekside Inn, where responders trained Sunday.

"I'd say the reason for the success in that rescue was because of the program we had earlier," Schultz said.

Mike Berna, an instructor with Rescue 3 International, ran the course that culminated with in-water training Sunday in the creek. Berna stressed to the responders that the most important concern was making sure they do not get injured during the rescue, either by the conditions or a panicking victim.

"This is designed specifically for development of personal skills to save their butts if they're in this environment," Berna said. "You fall in and you're done."

In fact, Berna moved the training more than 100 yards away from the dam where Smith and Poole were trapped because he believes that area is too risky, even with rescue equipment on.

"People look at it and think it's Disneyland - it's not," Berna said. "It's bad stuff."

Berna said plenty of bumps and bruises are "par for the course" for those taking part in the demanding training, which lasted more than four hours Sunday.

"We've had students get hurt before because it's not a controlled environment," Berna said. "It's like I tell them: I can't turn off the water."

Many of the attendees said the conditions were more difficult to deal with than they originally expected. Before jumping back in for more practice, one responder said no amount of reading on the topic prepared him for how difficult it was.

Tony Ralls, of the Smithsburg Volunteer Fire Co., said he believes the training will pay off in the future.

"I think I now know the basics of water rescue," Ralls said. "I feel more comfortable knowing I can get to someone and help them."

Clarence Webber, of the Potomac Valley Volunteer Fire Co., said the experience was positive because of the difficulty of the training area.

"This is a whole lot different than what we're used to on the Potomac (River)," Webber said.

Chuck Sweigert, of the Washington County Special Operations Team, said he believes now there will be better teamwork between people from different emergency responder units.

"It was good training with a variety of people we don't usually see on a fire," he said. "I think we're all a lot more confident having been out here today."

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