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Firefighters test swim skills

By Staff | Jun 10, 2010

MICHAEL PISTELLA Cape Coral firefighter and dive team member Jeremy Comer participates in the 800-yard snorkel swim during an annual swimming skills test Wednesday at the Yacht Club pool.

City firefighters participated in a variety of exercises Wednesday at the Cape Coral Yacht Club pool to test their swim skills against what are viewed as national standards.
About a half dozen staffers treaded water, retrieved an object from the pool’s floor, swam with and without snorkel gear, and transported a victim for 100 yards to compare their skills against recommendations released by the National Fire Protection Association. The city uses NFPA standards as the basis for much of its training, CCFD Engineer Ryan Corlew explained.
“It’s just another step to making our team better and up to those national standards,” he said.
Every Cape rescue diver and rescue diver technician must undergo and pass the watermanship test, Corlew said. As of Wednesday, 18 firefighters out of 86 total had participated in the test, which the CCFD has been conducting in sessions for more than a week. The city has about 187 sworn firefighters.
According to Corlew, who served as the shift dive field training officer for the watermanship test, the goal of the five exercises is to evaluate stamina and comfort in the water, as well as determine the endurance of the firefighters. Each sworn firefighter must pass an 8-hour swimming class, but the rescue divers and rescue diver technicians undergo additional department training.
“The big thing with us being divers is you have to be comfortable in the water,” said CCFD Firefighter Steve Hernden, who participated in the test Wednesday. “We run a lot of dive calls.”
He questioned how one could feel comfortable responding to a 2 a.m. call about a car submerged in the black waters of a canal if he or she does not feel comfortable in a “crystal clear pool.” Hernden also explained that the test helps firefighters determine if they are up to par on their training.
Fire Inspector Mike Burkhart agreed.
“It keeps you aware of what you can and can’t do in the water,” he said.
A rescue diver who is no longer “on shift,” Burkhart would be called to the scene for larger-scale incidents. Not using his skill set on a regular basis, he said that the test “gets you out” but can also be “intimidating if you don’t do the physical stuff every day.”
Hernden said he prepared at his gym’s pool for one area of the test that he thought he could be weak in: a 500-yard swim without using any swim gear.
“It’s a lot different swimming barefoot than swimming with fins on,” he said.
CCFD Division Chief Jim Heikkila said the department tries to follow all of the NFPA’s recommendations.
“With the amount of water and water rescues we have in the city, we try to maintain the highest level of training available to us,” he said.
With 400 miles of canals and 800 miles of shoreline in the city, the CCFD received 92 marine-related calls in 2009. Forty-six of those were water rescues or dive recoveries, 21 were calls about a vehicle in a canal and 14 were near drownings. Six calls were drownings and five were boat fires.
“We do have a lot of water activity,” Heikkila said.