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Firemen practice rescue exercises in Gulf waters

By Staff | Nov 24, 2009

By tourist standards, the 71 degree reading of Gulf waters last Thursday afternoon may have been a little colder than they would’ve preferred. But considering it was mid-November, that temperature really isn’t anything to complain about.

Of course, for members of the Sanibel Fire Rescue District, one of the last things on their minds was whether or not they considered the surf “a tad chilly.”

“It’s not that bad out,” said Tim Barrett, training officer for the Sanibel Fire Rescue District, who conducted an hour-long water rescue exercise at Tarpon Bay Road Beach. “Most of the guys really enjoy it.”

Barrett instructed fellow firefighters Tom Tracy, Mike Martin, Chris Jackson, John Murray and Tim Hanrahan on some of the standard water rescue drills as dozens of spectators looked on. These exercises were conducted over three days by firefighters, representing all three shifts stationed here on the island.

“Basically we do this to refamiliarize ourselves with this equipment, get comfortable using it so when we have to, we know all the ins and outs,” said firefighter Ron Ritchie, watching the exercise from the beach along with Assistant Chief Matt Scott. “We do this every six months, once here in the Gulf and once in the Rec Center pool.”

According to Ritchie, all of the gear employed by Sanibel’s water rescue squads – including wetsuits, fins, mask, snorkel and BC (buoyancy compensator) – are stored on fire trucks and emergency vehicles at all times.

The exercise included a 500-yard swim – out to a buoy 250 yards from shore and back – snorkeling practice, inflating and deflating their BC’s and understanding hand signals used by rescuers both in-water and on marine vessels.

“We are called out on about 10 water rescues each year,” said Scott, who noted the most frequent distress calls involved people who have swum out into the Gulf too far and have gotten exhausted.

“Parents put their kids on a raft, the tides go out and in just a couple of minutes, they can be 200 or 300 yards out there,” added Ritchie. “People should be more aware of how strong the currents are.”

Barrett explained that importance of his men being familiar with all of the equipment they might be called upon to use during an emergency call.

“We’re all very comfortable with this gear,” he said. “Working on an island and being surrounded by water on all sides, that’s probably a good thing.”