OKLAHOMA CITY -- Members of the Oklahoma Army National Guard participated in water rescue training last week over the waters of the Oklahoma River as part of a newly formed rescue task force.
Oklahoma Task Force One is comprised of members of the Tulsa, Verdigris, Norman and Oklahoma City Fire Departments, along with members of the Oklahoma Army National Guard. The Task Force One firefighters are certified rescue divers and paramedics who filled the roles of both the flood victims and rescue swimmers during the exercise.
Oklahoma Army National Guard helicopters and Guardsmen from Army Aviation Support Facility (AASF) 1, in Tulsa, and AASF 2, in Lexington, Oklahoma, spent most of the day hovering over the Oklahoma Riversport Complex in Oklahoma City, hoisting rescue divers from the water.
Task Force One, which officially began operations in October of last year, specializes in rescuing civilians from deadly situations, which include open and rapid water; lost hiker; collapsed trench; roof top; and post-natural disaster rescues, among others.
"[We] are deployable during state/local emergencies and regional to national emergencies similar to what [is] seen during our flood season in the spring, [periods of] heavy storm impact, even up to the hurricanes that we've seen as recent as last year in Texas," said Lt. Josh Pearcy, lead rescue swimmer for the Oklahoma City Fire Department.
Together, the firefighters and National Guard aviators comprise what is known as an HSRT, or Helicopter Search and Rescue Team, which is overseen, funded and dispatched by Oklahoma's Office of Emergency Management.
For this exercise, the Oklahoma Army National Guard employed two UH-60 "Black Hawk" and two UH-72 "Lakota" helicopters. The aircrews, along with rescue divers, practiced open water rescue techniques utilizing both strop harnesses and rescue baskets.
Each rescue diver had the opportunity to play both the rescuer and the rescued and rotate between each of the helicopters using both the harnesses and baskets.
"Next month we'll be doing rapid water training and [for our] final culmination, we'd like to be doing rapid water training, at night, using NVGs (night vision goggles)," said Capt. Brandon Files, the Oklahoma National Guard's liaison to Task Force One.
According to Files, Task Force One has planned several more training events at the RIVERSPORT Complex.