FORT SILL, Oklahoma (July 16, 2021) -- Every month, Fort Sill Directorate of Fire and Emergency Services (DES) firefighters receive specialized training. It might be for fighting wildland fires, performing high-angle rescues, trench rescues, or responding to hazardous materials spills.
Another training requirement is water rescue.
Every one of DES’s 55 firefighters was at Lake George at some point during the week of July 12-16, for their annual water rescue team certification.
“This is a specialized training where our guys have to be able to respond, and not just summertime, but any time,” said Jeremy Hazel, assistant chief for training.
The Fort Sill Fire Department has a 14-foot inflatable boat, and a 16-foot flat-bottom boat, both with shallow drafts for lake operations, slow moving flood rescues, and swift-water rescues, Hazel said. They have 25 horsepower, and 30 horsepower engines, respectively.
Lake Elmer Thomas has many recreational watercraft, and Lake George is popular, too. “Any one of those boaters could encounter some kind of trouble, so we have to be trained and ready to respond,” Hazel said. Also, there are many low-water crossings on post where flooding may occur after heavy rains.
The training day lasted eight hours, Hazel said. In one rescue scenario, a person in the water was plucked by the boat crew. The crew used a power slide, which uses the momentum of the small boat to help lift the victim into the boat while keeping the engine’s screw propeller away from them, Hazel said.
Another scenario involved an inflatable boat having capsized. The firefighters learned how to upright it, get back on board, restart it, and continue with the rescue, Hazel said. “We have to know how to save ourselves.”
In addition to the rescue techniques, firefighters are cross-trained so they can perform every role of the boat crew: coxswain, engineer, and lookout, Hazel said. “The more people who are certified, qualified, and know what they are doing hands-on, then the better the operation is going to go.”
As far as the number of water rescues DES performs that amount varies, Hazel said.
“We might not have one for a year or two, and then the next year we may go out four or five times,” Hazel said.