Emergency response crews from the area engaged in a unique experience Friday as they underwent water rescue training using the county’s new boats and other equipment.
Crews braved the Neosho River west of Iola on both sides of the highway crossing.
Those who participated became “Flood and Swiftwater Technician #1” certified under the rigorous course conducted by Rescue Training International out of New Braunfels, Texas.
Ten crew members from Iola fire and rescue took part, as did members of the Moran police department, Moran fire department and Colony fire department.
The instructors for the course were Camille Meyer and Jessie McGraw, who taught participants both in-class knowledge as well as hands-on, in-water skills.
Crew member Michael Burnett of Iola fire and rescue said the course “Mainly teaches you to swim with the current, upstream, downstream, how to control yourself, how to rescue somebody, how to rescue yourself, different scenarios of saving people.”
“You gotta be able to rescue yourself, if you get in a situation. … You never know when water conditions are going to change.”
“It’s really not that different from lifeguard training,” he said.
“The best way to help somebody is to help them rescue themselves, and not you having to go in and rescue them.”
Burnett also highlighted the need to learn “recovery” skills, that is, when it’s too late to save someone and their body must be retrieved.
Iola Fire Chief Tim Thyer said the course provides an opportunity to test out new equipment recently acquired by the county, including a rescue boat system that includes two boats and a trailer.
“It’s an asset for Allen County, a tool to get a specific job done,” Thyer said.
“The county has also purchased wetsuits for us,” he added, along with “personal floatation devices, helmets, booties and gloves. The county’s been pretty cool.”
“We’ve had a jetski for about 10 years, but it’s hard to save anybody off a jetski. … If they’re injured, you can’t really pull them aboard.”
“So having a boat, and having access to a watercraft and an aluminum part flat bottom boat, is pretty essential.”
“Hopefully next year we can get with Fish and Game and they can put on a boating operations course for us,” he said.
“We are the designated rescue team for Allen County,” Thyer said, which means that it’s often the responsibility of his office to respond to water-related disasters, including flooding.
“[When] that water gets to moving, it doesn’t take much to take you off your feet. … [especially] when you’re walking in the street [holding onto] a boat with people in it!”
He noted how it’s important for crews to prepare for multiple types of scenarios, including everything from retrieving someone floating on a log down the river to helping pull people from submerged vehicles.
Again, there’s also the unfortunate but real possibility of needing to retrieve a body from the water following a drowning or other incident, where, as Thyer explained, crews are “throwing out line, using grappling hooks, trying to locate the body.”
Along with recent floods, one specific example Thyer gave was of an event he recalled from about 15 years ago, where crews from Iola went to assist crews from Chanute, whose own boat had overturned during a water rescue.
“We went down to rescue the Chanute firemen at Barker Dam,” he said. “They had a boat capsize.”
“Back then we didn’t even have a jetski, but one of the guys had a duck hunting boat,” Thyer laughed, “and we took it down there with us.”
“Their rescue boat was upside down in the boil, which had sucked them in and flipped their boat over. There were three red helmets, bobbing up and down in the water, holding on.”
Thankfully, everyone was rescued, though Thyer suggested having the county’s new water rescue equipment would have made the job significantly less arduous.