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Treacherous Training

July 17, 2014, 10:02 PM by Don Jorgensen

Treacherous Training
SIOUX FALLS, SD -

Firefighters do more than put out fires. This time of year, they can find themselves braving rushing waters to save a person who might be in trouble or worse yet; drowning.

KELOLAND News got to follow along with a special unit of Sioux Falls Fire Rescue to show you how they train for such emergencies.

"We're going to simulate that we had a kayaker or someone in the water that came out of their boat and they are floating in the water," Battalion Chief Jay Titus said.

Four times a year, a special unit dedicated to water rescues conducts training exercises at various locations to stay proficient. 

On this day, they are at Palisades State Park near Garretson where water rescues aren't all that uncommon.

"I know last year they did have an actual rescue very similar to this spot and that's why we chose this for our training exercise," Dan Wagner said.

Conducting a water rescue can be difficult enough for firefighters, but doing it in a place like Palisades State Park, it can be even more dangerous.

The terrain here is rugged and steep. The water is low now, but at times, it can be a raging river, making it especially dangerous for kayakers or swimmers.

"All of our water systems are being used more for recreational purposes than they were 20 years ago, so we have more people exposed to those types of hazards," Titus said.

"A lot of people, like we can get rafters and kayakers through here, those are the main people we are going to find, either hung up on rocks or trees or whatever, those are the people we are most concerned about," Wagner said.

"Our department got into doing more technical rescues, because there's just no one else nearby us that does it, so we started with just water rescues, but with the Falls and things that we have running through our city, those typically are the rescues we do most of," Titus said.

During this scenario, not only do the firefighters have to go into the water to rescue the mannequin, they also have to put it in a basket and haul it up 60 to 70 feet along steep rocks and that can take time.

"The biggest issue for us is the rigging and hauling, the actual ride down is the easy part, getting everything set up, up top finding good anchors and supports is what makes this work," Wagner said.

Using lengthy ropes, the firefighters rig up a pulley system that will allow them to haul the victim up without much effort, but they have to be careful when doing so and that can sometimes take time.

"We're trying not to be rough on the patient, trying to take care of their spine and injuries they have, it'll take awhile, but it's the only safe way to do it," Wagner said.

Safety is a top priority, even though it can be tiresome and grueling on their bodies.

Communication and teamwork between the firefighters in the water and the firefighters on top of the rocks is crucial.

Every movement is well thought out before it's carried out to ensure the victim is safe and they aren't putting themselves in any kind of danger as well.

Sioux Falls Fire Rescue gets called out on water emergencies about a half dozen times a year.

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