Recently 4 of the newer members of Coquitlam SAR participated in a 3-day training course to qualify as Swiftwater Rescue Technicians. Colin Saurette of Coquitlam SAR is a certified SRT instructor and taught the course for our team, as well as for 3 members of the Vancouver Police Department.
In our search area we often encounter swiftwater indirectly: There are rivers or creeks we need to cross as part of a task, sometimes to access and evacuate a subject. There are shoreline searches for clues or evidence that take us into the danger zone of a swiftwater environment. At times we travel by boat to access a search area. Or we could be called out to assist during floods, which have become an immediate concern just these last few weeks.
One day of the course was spent on dryland training and theory. The second day focused on self-rescue and travel techniques: Swimming, shallow and deep water river crossings, hazards and safety. On the third day we practiced rescue related skills: Rescue swimming and river crossings with a subject.
We came away with new skills and with a new appreciation for the power of water:
We experienced the predicament of being caught in a strainer log. We saw one team member on a tethered swim being pushed and held underwater by the powerful current. We were pulled off our stance by the force of a two-person load at the end of our throwbag. While crossing in groups of two or three the river slowly peeled the legs from under one group and sent them floating down the rapids. At the end of the day we all felt the physical exertion from working with the water.
At the same time we experienced first-hand how water is predictable: A correct ferry angle can make a swim across the river easy and save lots of energy. Eddies are spots for resting and eddy lines are best crossed straight-on and high. The helical flow of water near shorelines can make approaches difficult and tiring.
Above all, water is an environment where you can very easily get hurt. Both in the water and on the shore. We all got our share of bumps and bruises. Protective equipment is an absolute must: Helmet and good boots, a PFD, a whistle and a knife, clothes that keep you warm (we wore dry suits with wool or fleece underneath).
To manage the risk a rescuer has to maintain awareness and good judgment at all times: Otherwise they might become a subject themselves which will escalate the situation. Looking after our personal safety is the only way we can be in a position to help the real subject in a search or rescue effort.
Team members regularly participate in this type of training, which makes the team both safer and more effective.