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Regional Water Rescue Training is staged at Rec Center, Bailey Road

By Staff | Aug 24, 2011

Rob Schmidt of the Bonita Springs Fire Rescue team falls into the Sanibel Recreation Center's lap pool on Tuesday afternoon. More than a dozen firefighters, EMTs and emergency personnel took part in training activities on the island.

Three days of exchanging ideas, methodologies and proven tactics for rescuing victims from the water started on Tuesday as emergency personnel from a dozen Lee County fire departments engaged in Regional Water Rescue Training here on Sanibel.

Coordinated by Tim Barrett, training officer with the Sanibel Fire & Rescue District, firefighters, paramedics and emergency operations staff visited the island for training on the latest state-of-the-art gear, learning methods of basic rescue practices and developing a universal standard for saving lives in Southwest Florida.

“The idea behind this training session is really to focus on the rescue side of things,” said Barrett. “We want to get familiar with what everybody else can do out there, try out some of the gear and see what equipment we have to use during a rescue.”

Participating companies included the Captiva Fire District, Cape Coral Fire Rescue, Bonita Springs Fire Rescue, San Carlos Park Fire Department, Iona-McGregor Fire District, Fort Myers Fire Department, North Fort Myers Fire District, Tice Fire Department, Estero Fire Rescue and Fort Myers Shores Fire Department.

Lt. Clint Hemphill of the Iona-McGregor Fire District led Tuesday morning’s exercise at the end of Bailey Road, where emergency personnel were divided into three groups. While Hemphill’s group discussed the first responders job upon arriving at the scene, including interviewing eyewitnesses right away, a second group went over search pattern methods and universal signals used by rescuers. A third group practiced using emergency gear, including ropes, life preservers, PFDs and dive vests.

Under the director of Iona-McGregor Fire Department Lt. Clint Hemphill, emergency personnel from around the region receive instruction on water rescue tactics and strategies.

“I’m telling you right now,” said Hemphill, “if you don’t get that vital information – including the last known point a person was seen – you’re just gonna be pissin’ in the wind.”

Iona-McGregor engineer Bob Swchandner explained to his group how to establish sweeping search patterns for drowning victims. He also went over some of the universal signals used by a rescue diver and tender:

One tug on the line checks to see if a diver is ok.

Two tugs on the line tells the diver to stop.

Three tugs on the line (from the tender) tells the diver there is danger in the area and to stay down; three tugs on the line (from the diver) tells the tender more line is needed.

Michael Pledger from the Fort Myers Shores Fire Department demonstrates how to throw a line to a victim in the water.

Four tugs on the line (from either the diver or tender) means assistance is needed.

“If we have a water rescue and we’re working with other departments, we should know we’ll be working very similar to each other’s methods,” added Barrett.

In the afternoon, personnel completed additional rescue exercises in the lap pool at the Sanibel Recreation Center, learning how to pull victims from a submerged automobile, how to float in the water after falling in with full turnout gear on and how to work as a team to recover a drowning victim on a rescue board.

“I’m benefitting a lot from this training,” said firefighter/medic Bridget Byrne, who joined the Captiva Fire District two weeks ago. “I did some of the basics when I arrived on Captiva, but the majority of this I’m learning for the first time.”

Rob Schmidt of Bonita Springs Fire Rescue also stressed the importance of being familiar with working water-based rescue operations.

Firefighter/medic Bridget Byrne of the Captiva Fire District is pulled to safety by her fellow trainees.

“Where we live, things happen quite a bit around the water… people are at the beach or have pools,” said Schmidt as he emerged from the pool in full gear – helmet, jacket, boots and all. “These exercises helps all of us get comfortable with the gear we’ll be using and what we might have to encounter.”

The squad from the Fort Myers Fire Department arrived via their boat.