Schuyler flooding

Floodwaters cover an area near Schuyler during March's flooding. Members of the Schuyler Fire Department are attending water safety training courses this weekend in order to bolster their skills in rescuing citizens affected by large floods.

After hundreds of people in and around Schuyler were affected by March’s devastating flooding, Fire Chief Brad Sock took a look at his team and decided that something needed to be done about their relative lack of water rescue training.

“A lot of us have never had any (water rescue) training whatsoever,” Sock said. “It’s always sat in the back of some of our minds. Some of us have been through multiple floods, (but) not quite to the extent of this one in March. It kind of opened a lot of eyes and showed what the rivers and creeks in the area can do.”

As a result, he decided to enlist some outside help. Public Safety Dive Services of Grand Junction, Colorado, will bring a swiftwater training exercise to Schuyler this weekend in order to help officers provide the best level of support to those stranded and stricken by floodwaters. It’s a course that seems long overdue for the department, and Sock said he now feels that after the harrowing events in March, it will be a necessary part of their training.

“We have never had a class offered in this area (of expertise),” Sock said. “We have some departments in the area that we can utilize if we had to that are trained in this area. However, at the time of the floods, everyone was busy. We didn’t have time to call upon other departments when they have their own problems in their areas. It’s going to be a great asset here.”

The course itself will consist of three main parts. The first part, held Friday night, is a classroom presentation that will provide awareness of many issues relating to water rescue and water safety. The second part will come Saturday and consist of an operational phase that will provide solutions for helping people in the water while not actually going in the water, lest one gets swept up in the tide. Finally, Sunday will bring a swim evaluation before the formal testing begins for technician-level certification.

Bo Tibbetts, a water operational instructor with PSDS, said that the course’s main goal is to keep firemen safe by showing them just how powerful water can be.

“Water is 800 times denser than air,” Tibbetts said. “We have an 800-pound gorilla that we are happy to take on. The best way to take on that gorilla is that we have to be able to utilize the dynamics of the water in order to make it work in our advantage. It’s very complex; it takes only a teaspoon of water to drown us, and so if you understand what that may look like going and getting a victim, we as fire rescue professionals need to see what’s in the toolbox, what’s in our arsenal of how we can best attack a situation where a victim is in the water.”

Building the confidence of the officers is important to Tibbetts. The course will begin with lower-risk exercises before moving on to more extreme situations involving cars, trees, brush and pesticides. Making sure that people don’t make crucial mistakes is vital to what Tibbetts and his team want to teach fire safety personnel.

“We believe in keeping it simple,” Tibbetts said. “We employ the KISS methodology - which is Keep It Simple and Safe - and we try to take the stupidity out of this if at all possible. As we inject ourselves as humans into the equation, we make mistakes. Sometimes, these mistakes that we make can cost us our lives. We try to keep things simple and safe at all times.”

The training should not only help the firemen and women of Schuyler become more well-rounded public servants, but it should also keep people safe. Sock is excited about the potential of the course. Even though it will only be a three-day weekend course, he thinks that it will have an impact well beyond the walls of the firehouse.

“I feel great,” Sock said. “After what I’ve seen and what’s happened over the last few months, it’s well-needed. We’ve got about 19 miles of river that flows through our county (and) we have some areas of lakes and ponds, so this class is going to be well-used. I hope (it’s) a training that we take and continue to train that we never have to use again, but realistically, it’s probably going to be needed some time down the road.”

Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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