Agencies collaborate for swift water rescue training
By J.J. Kindred | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thanks to the efforts of the Townsend Volunteer Fire Department, Blount County Fire Department and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visitors to rapid areas such as the Sinks can feel safer.
The three agencies collaborated for a swift water rescue training session in the Sinks Sunday afternoon. Approximately ten people participated in the session as an advanced course in the continuation of classes called Swift Water I and Swift Water II that the participants had previously taken as a prerequisite.
The class focuses on rope use and boat handling, and how to rescue victims. Officials from the agencies said there have been many incidents to happen in the area over the last few years, and the course teaches already established rescue workers how to be better prepared to rescue those stuck in rapid areas such as the Sinks.
“This is an investment we made for this class,” said Townsend Fire Chief Don Stallions. “This is the conclusion of Swift Water II, and each class is about $4,000 a piece. We have some new guys that have suited up. We spent $4,000 on equipment, so by the time we get done, we will have about $8,000 in equipment invested in training. We had a crew that was already equipped, but we added to the crew.”
Stallions said the money for the course the fire department already had through community donations. The training is normally done through a weekend — on a Friday night, and all-day sessions Saturday and Sunday.
He explained that participants have to first learn self-rescue before beginning the advanced course.
“There are dangerous conditions, and with the swift moving water, you have to take care of yourself first,” Stallions said. “You have to be a good swimmer and be comfortable in the water.”
Lt. Will McCampbell, Swift Water team leader, said the training was absolutely necessary to continue to save lives.
“There are a lot of folks in the river these days with the inner tubers, and a lot of more people come to the park,” McCampbell said. “There are a lot of folks out, so this is necessary. It’s fun, but it tells you where the dangerous areas are and the potentially dangerous areas, and it really opens your eyes as to how the river works.”
Another Swift Water technician, Rindi Martin, described the courses and strenuous, but “not too bad.”
“It’s been fun and there’s a lot of knowledgeable information to use,” Martin said. “We’ve trained in other rivers, but not this one. This is the first time we’ve really gotten to train with an instructor, and the things we’ll actually be confronting. We had some calls up here, and will do some night operations. We’re looking forward to training and knowing the river a little better.
“We’ve been here numerous times to rescue people out of this area,” Martin continued. “It’s very knowledgeable to know different techniques so we will be prepared for certain rescues.”
Steve Kloster, Tennessee District Ranger for the National Park Service, said with all the incidents that have occurred over the years, such as foot entrapments and drownings, it was important for the three agencies to come together to train.
“The most important thing with the three agencies coming and training together is getting to know each other and knowing each other’s capabilities,” Kloster said. “In the Park Service, we got to the point now that the rangers jobs are getting so complex that it is difficult for us to be experts at everything. It is very critical that we work with our partner agencies and that we all become familiar with each other.”
Kloster said that there are an average of two to three rescues a year in the Sinks.
“We have about 100 rescues in the park annually, and there have been several fatalities over the last several years,” he said. “We’ll have more qualified and trained rescuers. We will get to know each other on a first-name basis, so that way if there’s a rescue it wouldn’t be the first time we see each other. We’ll all be trained with the same standards and we will all talk about the same things.”