KENAI — All first responder planning requires a certain level of preparation for the inevitable, intense training for that rescue that will eventually come.
This weekend’s water rescue training proved to be a bit of a reversal of that philosophy for the several teams of firefighters who late last month dashed out into the stormy mouth of the Kenai River to save two commercial fishermen after the F/V Six capsized in heavy seas on its way into port on the evening of Aug. 21. They had their high-tempo, real-world experience before training.
That night, after 45 minutes, three Kenai firefighters, with already practiced skills of para-rescue and some level of water rescue experience in the mouth of the Kenai and the water beyond, were successful in reaching the hypothermic pair in time to save their lives.
During a three-day training session over the weekend, 10 area firefighters from three agencies expanded their overall abilities to rescue fishermen and boaters from Kenai Peninsula rivers, lakes and even the often stormy Cook Inlet itself.
The course, taught by Dick Rice of Rescue 3 International, a worldwide training group specializing in all manner of water rescue, covered use of nautical charts, reading currents, swift (river) and open water rescue, conducting open water search patterns, helmsmanship, teamwork and communications.
“I need good communication with you,” Rice explained to the firefighters Saturday before taking them out for some wet training.
At the docks he covered issues from tying up boats with a cleat hitch for quick release to selecting the right personal flotation device for rescue work to communications to boat handling and actual wet rescue scenarios and methods in the river and out in the water.
That communication Rice wants with his students is also a lesson for the rescue team to communicate with those they seek to rescue, when that time comes. Find out what they know, how they’re doing and if they can help in their own rescue, Rice said.
“It’s all fundamentals (that) we do,” Rice said to his students. “Nothing changes here.”
Rice worked to set a base standard on all aspects of rescue work and then sought to build upward from there — no changes, no mistakes.
“The training is really important for everyone in our business,” Kenai Fire Chief Mike Tilly said Saturday at the Kenai City Dock before joining the class.
The training session would take firefighters from river to inlet and back as they worked out systems and plans for multiple rescue scenarios in the low frequency, high risk game of water rescues, like the one Tilly’s personnel managed in August. The previous rescue that was most like it occurred 12 years before.
With years between such calls, training and practice for water rescues are crucial. Though the weekend course was high-end and specialized, it’s not the only one the first responders have seen. Every spring his teams and firefighters from Central Emergency Services and Nikiski train for the possibility of water rescues, Tilly said.
The Rescue 3 course is more of an advanced boat operator course, Tilly said. Rice, a former Juneau firefighter, brought a level of experience and background that was invaluable to the men and women in the course, many with rescue skills already established from earlier training and experience, he said. Like any firehouse, his people all bring skills when they become firefighters. He’s got a para-rescue swimmer, a fabricator, a mechanic, a former construction worker and a commercial fishermen to draw from when the job calls for it. Experience equals talent. And the day, last month, when three of his men went out to in stormy seas with little to zero visibility, in a borrowed boat, without navigation equipment to rescue the fishermen, those best suited for the job went, he said.
With the weekend training, experience in water rescue grew in those first responders in attendance. Now, Tilly said, the work is to spread that new knowledge to thosw ho could attend — someone had to man the stations should a fire break out or medical attention be needed.
From the chief’s perspective, the most favorable result of the training is big picture: all three agencies were working together team building and brainstorming on coordinated rescues.