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Swift Water training gets first responders ready to save swimmers

Posted at 6:36 PM, Jun 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-12 19:41:42-04

Last year, there were close to 4,000 drowning statewide.

That’s why first responders like the Flour Bluff and Annaville Fire Departments get specialized training to ensure they’ll be ready when a swimmer is in trouble.

“The fast R1 class is a three-day class we start from going over,” RTI instructor Wesley Meyer says. “From 8 to 12 o’clock we go over lecture and cover everything we can out of our manuals.”

Then, it’s out of the classroom and into real-life situations.

We’re here at the Guadalupe River as some of our firefighters from Nueces County go through some training. they’re going to take the skills learned here they can take back home and hopefully be ready when tragedy strikes.

The Swift Water and Rescue Technician Course or Fast R1, is a 27-hour, three-day course that gives first responders the knowledge and skills to decide the proper form of action in floods and swift water environments. But to be ready, practice is critical. In a mock scenario, three-man crews took turns wading through waters to save a victim that had been swept away by heavy current.

“We see footage all the time about people that mean well,” Meyer said. “They have every good intention in the world. Police, fire, EMS, Sheriff’s Departments all over the United States and around the world are tasked with saving the public. Unfortunately, sometimes they’re thrown curve balls. My performing water rescue that they have not had the time to train for.”

Rushing into cold swift waters, you get a sense of just how powerful currents can be. With a life on the line, grabbing the victim the first time can be the difference between life and death. But to get a sense of just how difficult it can be, I decided to jump in feet first.

O.K., we’re about to go through some of the scenarios some of the training that they’ll go through this three-day process. Will you get suited up and learn what they go through?

“All right, we’re ready to go.”

Thanks to my lesson and swimming experience, I was able to fight the currents and pull my victim to safety. But the energy used makes you exhausted and fatigued if you’re not in shape. Once ashore it was time to get the perspective from a victim who’s been washed away.

“With the summer months, there will be a lot of rain and a lot of flash flooding events where vehicles wind up getting lost due to the flooding,”  Flour Bluff Fire Department Capt. Christopher Burkhardt said. “Also, with hurricane season, everything we’re doing out here correlates with everything we did with Harvey. If we had a hurricane hit Corpus Christi, this training would be invaluable.”

And this is just one type of training offered by Rescue Training International. Their courses are responsible for helping first responders be ready for the worst-case scenario.

“I’d rather mess up or have an issue while training or something we never knew about and have the issue during training than have an actual accident or a scene or an incident,” Burkhardt said.

“There’s no such thing as perfection. There’s only such thing as the pursuit of perfection.”

Many of these courses, like the Swift Water and Rescue Technician courses need to be taken every three years for re-certification.