Sanibel fire crews focus on surf rescue training
Members of the Sanibel Fire and Rescue District took to the ocean last week to work on their swim training exercises, with a focus on surf rescue using new rescue boards that the district received.
From July 29-31, all three shifts at the district took part in the exercises off of the beach near the Hurricane House Resort on West Gulf Drive. Division Chief of Training Tim Barrett explained that the crews assigned to both stations took part in the training, which lasted for a couple hours each day.
“We do water rescue training, in general,” he said, explaining that when crews train in a pool, for instance, they will focus on competencies such as proper swim techniques and treading water.
The surf rescue training, though, prepares the team for low-frequency high-risk calls.
“When it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does the risks are high,” Barrett said.
“So we need to be ready for it,” he added.
Barrett reported that every fire truck is equipped with rescue surfboards.
“The focus on this training was getting out to the swimmer in distress as quickly as possible,” he said.
Barrett explained that a buoy located about 100 to 150 yards out in the water served as the “victim.” The crews had to get from the beach into the water with their board, then get out to their victim.
“They have to paddle out as quickly as possible,” he said.
“What they’re dealing with is the current and waves,” Barrett added. “Then they have to come in as quickly as possible because now they have a victim with them. Because we want to initiate rescue efforts as quickly as possible.”
The training also entailed swimming into the currents to get accustomed to them.
“The benefits of swimming out in the Gulf is you have to deal with realistic tides and currents,” he said of the training. “There’s a couple of rip currents out there that they swim into so they get used to it.”
Barrett noted that the exercise, though, is conducted in an observed safe manner.
“They’re in relatively shallow water, like five or six feet,” he said. “But we get them out into rough water as safely as possible because that’s where people (beach-goers) usually get into trouble.”
Those with the district who are certified as rescue swimmers underwent some additional drills.
“They have to swim a little further. We expect a little more out of them,” Barrett said, explaining that every shift has a minimum of one certified staffer per station, but usually three or four are on duty.
The training also covered dealing with what goes on onshore during an emergency, including organizing additional resources arriving on scene, identifying witnesses and collecting statements.
“Every drill we do we try to create it with as many factors as possible,” he said.