Thursday, July 28, 2011

Taking a Leap Into Class II and III Rapids in the Name of Safety

Last month, biologists and technicians from our office joined employees from the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Forest Service, and other organizations in a 3-day Swift Water Safety and Rescue training course. We take the course each year to prepare for our summer fish and habitat surveys in the fast-moving rivers of western Washington. For newer staff, this was a first-time training experience not soon forgotten. The training began with a half-day lecture at the NPS headquarters in Port Angeles, WA, followed by 2½ days of in-water exercises on the Elwha, Sol Duc, and Skokomish Rivers on the Olympic Peninsula.

Students learned skills necessary to identify risks and safely negotiate swift water hazards using proper wading and swimming techniques, as well as the use of zip lines. We also developed rescue skills including effective throw bag use; avoiding, negotiating and rescuing from foot entrapments and strainers; "live bait” rescues (where a rescuer, tethered to a team member anchored ashore, swims to the aid of the victim); vessel capsize, recovery and reentry; and basic gear that field personnel should have on hand.

Every year, field workers and recreationalists fall victim to a lack of experience, familiarity with, and training in the dangers of swift water environments. This course was an intensive confidence-building and teambuilding experience for our Fisheries Division staff. Each member left the course with a new respect for the hazards of swift water, a greater appreciation for their equipment, a heightened awareness of the physical demands required to work in and around moving water, and the knowledge to work safely in these environments.