When the weather gets warmer everyone wants to head to the water. It doesn’t matter if you are in Florida where it has been warm for a while, or if you are in Minnesota where the ice might have finally left, the increase in temperature brings everyone to the water. Since our job brings us where the people are this is a good time to remember a few water safety tips.
One of the biggest mistakes we can make in fire service is to say that we don’t really have any lakes or rivers in our town so we don’t need to worry about water rescue.
Too many departments fall into that trap and at best they have a neighboring town on mutual aid in case they get a call for a water rescue. This is a simple solution, fill out the automatic aid dispatch card and we can mark water rescue off the list. Unfortunately that solution doesn’t really work. You may get by for a while with that plan but sooner or later you need to have a better plan.
It is great to choose another town for assistance with water rescue, but you at least need to work with them to establish a plan and understand what to expect when they arrive.
You don’t need a boat, special gear, or divers to size up a water rescue scenario. Get a copy of their procedure and talk with them about what they will need when they arrive. Even if they are dispatched at the same time as you there is a lot of time and things you can work on before they arrive.
The most important is to find out what has really happened, how many victims there are and their location. Locating a victim on a body of water is extremely difficult. As soon as possible the victim’s last location should be marked by using landmarks on the shore. Water is always moving and so will a victim on the water.
Asking questions like how long the victim has been in the water will help determine the search area. Just like with other emergencies people usually try to solve the problem before they call, losing that time is critical in water rescue.
If your department has a water rescue policy make sure you review it with your crew and take the time to make sure whatever special gear you have is in working order:
- Don’t just open the compartment door and check the box that means it is present.
- Take it out and make sure it really works.
- Put on the life jackets and see if they still fit the firefighters – We never get smaller over the winter.
- Does the rope in that rope bag play out like it is supposed to or did it get put away wrong and get knotted up?
Water safety is important on our day off also. There is nothing more frightening than hearing those stories of children falling in the lake or river and no one being able to find them. Keeping kids within sight isn’t always good enough, sometimes you need to keep them within reach.
Especially when playing near a river consider putting children in a life jacket or floatation device. There are some life jackets out there that are very comfortable. Make sure there is enough supervision for a large group of kids, and that the supervisors are competent.
Creeks, retention ponds, and ditches can all become water hazards. Even if you don’t have any large bodies of water you still have the potential for water rescue. Don’t get caught without a plan if you are called to help at the water.