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Great Lakes Technical Rescue

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Shorebased Swiftwater Rescue Operations

Posted on November 29, 2013 at 5:49 PM
Swiftwater events will typically require a multifaceted response approach. Elements of what is required include: water operations, shore operations, communications, and accountability. It is incumbent of every first responder during a water incident to look out for themselves, their team members, and the victims; in that order.
The focus of this training module will be shorebased rescue operations. Shore based operations is further defined as utilizing personnel who may or may not be formally trained in either swiftwater and/or technical rope rescue. Sub-elements of the shore based rescue operation include day/night search, rope operations, bridge operations, and downstream/upstream spotters.
Day/Night Searches-
Once a person is declared missing near water, it isthe responsibility of the Incident Commander (IC) or first on-scene responders to establish the search box (perimeter). Shore based personnel will be tasked with searching the areas within the search box in an attempt to locate the missing person. Shore based personnel will be working in teams of no less than two. There are two types of searches; hasty and detailed. This is much like a primary and secondary search during firefighting operations. If possible, two hasty searches, with two different teams will be conducted. During a hasty search, time is the most critical factor. Hasty searches are fast; search personnel are not turning over every “rock”. They are moving quickly and scanning the area quickly as they move. They will be searching the water’s edge and an area roughly 50 feet away from the water. Searchers will be looking for not only the person(s), but signs or evidence that the person was there. Detailed searches are more structured and methodic. They are slower and more detailed.This second search will cover the same area as the hasty and may be extended as appropriate.
All search personnel will have, at a minimum, the following Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): radio, helmet, gloves, boots, at least 2 flashlights (for night ops), PFD and throw bag for search personnel searching the water’s edge (no exception), and a whistle. Search personnel who are closest to the water should also consider appropriate exposure protection i.e.swiftwater drysuit or wetsuit. remember, wetsuits are not NFPA compliant in flood operations due to haz.mat/contamination dangers!

Search personnel may encounter heavy vegetation, loose rocks, fallen trees, animals, and various factors that can injure search personnel. Wearing the proper PPE will help to reduce injuries when traversing difficult terrain. Additionally, environmental and weather factors may dictate what types of exposure protection are required.
Searching at night is especially dangerous and difficult. Sight is typically the most important sense, and at night, sight is significantly limited. Search personnel should be especially careful when searching difficult terrain at night or during other low visibility operations. Night operations are also typically slower due to the increased danger to rescuers.
Rope Operations-
If water rescue events require support from rope operations, shore based personnel may be put to work helping to set up systems or used as muscle to help “haul” or “control” during rope ops. Rope operations are typically labor and manpower intensive. Rope operations will be led by and coordinated with individuals trained in this discipline. There may be scenarios where experienced rope technicians lead various groups of less experienced personnel to help set up a rope based rescue. It is important for rescuers/departments that have the possibility of being involved in rope rescue operations to include rope ops into their training schedule.
Bridge Operations-
In the event of a river incident, responders will be dispatched to bridges within the search area as appropriate. They function as both “catch” points and downstream containment. There are a number of tactics that bridge personnel can employ including various “cinchs” and using an inflated fire hose as examples. These tactics can be the primary means of rescue or last ditch efforts if other attempts upstream have failed.
Downstream containment is just that; containment. Every effort must be made to not allow victims to pass the downstream containment. If a victim “blows” through the downstream containment, there may be no one else downstream to help them. The IC will determine how large the searchbox is and where downstream containment is to be set up.
Upstream/Downstream Spotters-
It isnecessary during water rescue events in swiftwater to have personnel staged upstream and downstream of the rescue scene. Upstream spotters are looking out for anything traveling downstream that could complicate rescue operations or place rescuers in greater danger. Examples of things upstream spotters are looking for are: trees, logs, construction material, barrels, people (on kayaks, rafts, riverboards, etc), animals, etc. If people (non-victims) are encountered, every effort must be taken to communicate to them that they need to exit the water and not travel through the rescue scene. Upstream spotters are to immediately communicate to the IC or designee if something has been spotted coming down and approximately how far away it is and/or how long untill it reaches the rescue scene. If the object is large enough, the IC may elect to remove all rescuers from the water until it passes.
Downstream spotters are personnel who are both looking for victims and also standing by in case rescuers get swept downstream. Downstream spotters will have at least one throwbag per spotter. Additional equipment (training permitted) available to downstream spotters are fins, a river rescue board, kayak, "bannana" boat, etc for in-water rescues. It is highly recommended that there be trained personnel available downstream for in water rescue/retrieval. There have been many examples of victims who are unable to help in their own rescue. If the victim for any reason is not able to grab a throwbag rope or fire hose, a rescuer must go in and get them.
This training module is just the beginning of what rescuers need to be aware of, and be comfortable with, in the event of a water rescue call. Rescuers are not to attempt tasks or rescue techniques that they have not been trained for or ar ecomfortable in performing. There are countless examples of rescuers becoming victims because they did not maintain situational awareness. Many well-intentioned rescuers made the ultimate sacrifice, unnecessarily. Situational awareness is critical; do not become another statistic.

Categories: Rescue Operations

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