AVIS LAKE – People become volunteer firefighters because they want to help, but a volunteer that becomes a victim in a water rescue is no help at all.
Chickasaw County volunteer firefighters gathered at Davis Lake recently for a morning of classroom training and an afternoon on the water trying out rescue techniques.
“Six inches of rushing water is enough to knock you off your feet and sweep you into deeper water,” said Tony Garza, Chief Training Officer with the Hatley Fire Department and a certified water rescue and dive instructor. “And we’ve all heard the stories of someone who goes in the water to rescue someone and they drown.”
He offered this quick rhyme to help volunteers: “Reach, Throw, Row, Go!”
“Actually we encourage rescuers to try and talk to the victim first, calm them down and find out details of what is going on,” said Garza. “In a swift water rescue there could be someone still in the car. In a boating accident the person needing the most help may be somewhere else.”
Developing a plan of action may be waiting for back-up or it could be waiting for the flood waters to recede. He said rescuers need to also access resources and routes for rescue.
Garza said in all emergency situations, rescue workers need to keep their head, but it can be difficult in a water rescue, especially if someone is in the water and panicking and family members are on the bank screaming for someone to do something.
“I’ve always said if there are two of you, someone needs to take control of the scene and the other one needs to start thinking about a plan of action,” said Garza. “If you’ve got six family members that want to get in the water to rescue little Billy you can suddenly have seven people that need rescuing.”
That’s where “Reach, Throw, Row, Go!” comes in.
“Sometimes you can find a branch or limb on the bank and get it to the person in the water,” said Garza. “In the case of a drowning, an ice cooler, life jacket or even a log can be thrown to the person in the water.”
Garza said a rope is a great rescue tool and flagging down a boater and getting them to the drowning victim can be an answer to a prayer.
“Most boaters have a life-jacket they can throw to someone in the water, or hold out a paddle to them,” said Garza. “When you’ve assessed all the resources and options and when seconds count and you’ve run out of solutions, that’s when you go in the water.”
Garza said formal life-saving is the most dangerous form of water rescue. He urged volunteers to don a life-jacket or grab a flotation device before they headed to the victim. He said leaving someone on the bank and heading into the water with a rope in hand is another solution.
“Once you get the victim on the rope, you get out of reach and let the folks on shore pull them in,” said Garza. “Simply walking up the bank – you don’t want to jerk the rope out of their hand – can quickly them to shallow water where they can stand up.”
Garza said a drowning victim usually goes under in a little under a minute after they get in a trouble and rescuers have four minutes to get them out and begin resuscitation.
“You have to be trained to do this and know what to do quickly, because you don’t always have a lot of time,” said Garza. “And when you get in those scary situations where minutes count, that’s when training kicks in and the story has a happy ending.”