By Laurie Pearson, Staff writer
Swift water rescue training isn’t for the faint of heart; it’s physically demanding and potentially dangerous, but the allure it holds is giving the participants the ability to help save lives.
A group of local men embraced the challenge in order to enhance their rescue skills, but found they had some fun too.
“It will be something Lincoln County can be proud of,” said Kathy Hovis, EMA deputy director and Blanche volunteer firefighter.
The Lincoln County Swift Water Team consists of 20 Fayetteville-Lincoln County men, involved in law enforcement, fire/rescue, emergency medical services and even a judge. Some of the team members have already been trained in scuba diving and others in first-aid.
Tennessee Association’s Rescue Squad (TARS) training draws men and women from across the nation.
Local participants were Casey Baker, Chad Brown, Jesse Cassias, Tommy Cross, Brandon Gentry, Eric Hose, Tull Malone, Lance Jean, Matt McCain, Zach Means, Billy Miles, Jr., Will Miles, Andy Myrick, Mike Pitts, Brian Rutledge, Josh Seymour, Kevin Smith, Coby Templeton, Jason Whitt and Drew Young.
A Homeland Security grant paid for the men’s training and supplied wet and dry suits, protective foot wear, helmets and life jackets.
“In order to get grant funding, the team had to consist of a specialized team,” said Hovis.
Half of the local team left for training June 22-24 for the Swift Water I course on the Ocoee River near Cleveland. The second half of the team participates in Swift Water Rescue II Aug. 10-12.
The Ocoee River is popular for white water rafting, and the river was also the site of the 1996 Olympic kayak events. Based on the International Scale of river difficulty, the area for the Olympics was an Olympic Class IV rating; however, where the training took place, the river difficulty was a Class II.
TARS began the first session with an evening class indoors, where the men were provided with an overview of the class and learned about safety features they would need to be familiar with in the water the following two days.
At 8 a.m. the following morning, a total of 30 students, 10 from Fayetteville-Lincoln County, met at the river and branched off into three teams.
“The first day was very strenuous,” said Billy Miles, Jr., with Central Volunteer Fire Rescue.
A requirement for taking the course is that all students must be good swimmers.
The class involved life saving, learning a survival float, proper use of a throw bag containing about 100-feet of rope, rescuing victims and entry into swift water.
Miles said that entry into swift water is totally different than diving into calm water or a pool.
“They teach you to belly flop, protect your face and keep your feet up,” Miles explained.
During the rescue segment, every member of the team had to perform three different exercises to simulate rescuing a conscious, unconscious and combative victim.
All team members have an opportunity to play the role of the victim as well.
“Everyone is expected to play the role real big,” said Jason Whitt, a member of the Blanche Fire/Rescue.
Throughout the day, team members would also do eddy swims to a calmer area of the river for rest and relaxation; however, they had to strain to swim 300 to 400 yards to the eddy.
“It was exhausting – you don’t have any trouble sleeping Saturday night,” said Eric Hose, a Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department deputy.
Although exhausting, at the same time, he said it was fun.
“It’s a good thing – I think it will be useful if we do have a flood or a rescue,” he added.
On Sunday, teams spent the third class in the river.
Another part of the training involved learning how to safely swim over a log or another obstacle they might encounter during a rescue – “How to get safely around it,” Miles explained. ‘We were also taught to use a zip line.
“It gives us a whole different outlook on swift water rescue,” Miles said.
Swift Water Rescue II was held on the Hiwassee River and involved raft exercises. They also learned a couple of scenarios for tethered swims.
The first night of II was spent learning boat rowing maneuvers and techniques through different types of rapids.
“It’s defining how you maneuver a boat in different types of rapids,” Miles explained.
During the second class, they were trained for a tethered swim during an operation that lasted from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. Sunday morning. The team was to experience rescue operations in both daylight and in darkness.
The final day of class the team concentrated on boat operation and defining how to maneuver boats through different types of rapids. They focused on how to use their boats to retrieve a victim or team member, Miles stated.
In a Swift Water III course, which is a pilot class, the team will learn more techniques on the use of ropes and tying of knots, as well as other rescue techniques. That class will be taught in Fayetteville.
“I think it will be a good asset for the county,” said Hovis. “Our people always do a good job.”