Wichita firefighters prepare for swift water rescues

By Jade DeGood
KWCH – May 28, 2015

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As the waters rise, the strong current could prove fatal.

“With the way the current is… it’ll take you,” said Captain Brent Holeman, Wichita Fire Department. “Drowning is the silent killer. You’re just gone.”

That’s why Wichita firefighters take opportunities to train for swift water rescues when the local rivers rise. These rescue crews take turns saving each other from different real-life scenarios.

“Just practicing doing pick ups,” said Firefighter Brian Finan. “If someone’s in the river, coming along side them and then grabbing them and getting them in the boat in a safe manner.”
“Simulate somebody being stranded on top of a car or being stuck in a tree where they can’t free themselves, but we’ll go and get them,” said Captain Holeman.

So when a real life call comes in, they are ready.

“You can get yourself in trouble really, really quick where you kind of underestimate it and then the next thing you know, you’re needing rescued,” said Holeman.

But this training isn’t without danger of it’s own.

“Out of all the training we do, probably the swift water makes me the most nervous,” said Holeman. “I’m always counting heads on my guys and making sure we’re all staying safe.”

Because firefighters know, currents like we are seeing now in many Kansas rivers are not to be messed with.

“People underestimate the power of water, it’s unmatched when it comes to the elements,” said Holeman. “Don’t even go near the water unless you have some sort of life jacket on and really it’s best just to stay out of it.”

With Riverfest starting Friday, Holeman said the fire department will be paying close attention to the rivers as more people want to do water sports.

“Obviously when the waters up and wet a lot of rain like this, Riverfest, gets a little more busy for us,” he said. “Something as little as a three mile per hour current could take you if it’s above your knees. It takes as little as a five mile an hour current to hold you against something to where you can’t get off of it. So it’s best just to stay away from it.”

In Wichita, a big concern on the Arkansas river is low head dams.

“They don’t look like much, but it creates a turbine and if you get sucked in to one of those, it just keeps churning,” he said. “It’ll knock you down, spit you out, draw you back down into it. Knock you back down again and they’re drowning machines.”

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