Flagler County Fire Rescue Marine Rescue Team and FireFlight last week (August 25) practiced marine rescue techniques on the Intracoastal Waterway to hone their skills should they be called out to save a swimmer or boater. Would-be rescuers also used the county’s jet ski as part of the training exercise.
“Rescue swimmers deployed from the helicopter and were assisted by the Fire Rescue water craft, creating both dynamic and realistic training,” said Fire Rescue Chief Mike Tucker. “It is important for us to be prepared for any situation we might encounter.”
The “victim” for the training was an unmanned life jacket. FireFlight medics and rescue swimmers Kyle Najpaver and Andy Thomas jumped from the helicopter – navigated by Pilot Todd Whaley – about a dozen times to bring the lifejacket ashore to safety with the assistance of the Fire Rescue jet ski, driven by Lt. John Krall.
“We utilized the ‘10 feet 10 knots’ (a military term) approach, because it’s better for the victim,” Whaley said of the technique that gets the helicopter in close while slowly moving forward. “This keeps the wind and water created by the rotor – called the rotor downwash – out of the victim’s face. It also allows the medics to get to the victim quickly and efficiently.”
Aboard the helicopter, Najpaver and Thomas used a touch system of communication – spotter (non-diver) to diver – to let the other know when it was appropriate to exit the aircraft. Whaley kept in constant radio communication with the spotter. One tap on the shoulder means prepare to dive. Two taps means dive.
“In a real situation offshore in the ocean, we would also deploy a four-person life raft,” said Flight Operations Chief Dana Morris, who orchestrates this critical training. “This would allow both the rescuee and the rescuer to get to a safe spot to await further assistance.”
It is now that the jet ski is then put into motion to help get the victim out of the water to the ambulance waiting ashore.
Two members of Flagler County’s Drone Team – Matt Adams and Joe Cavallaro – filmed the training exercise and streamed it on the county’s YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/yz-hQdhZIWI.
The Marine Rescue Team was formed in 2010. Nineteen members of Flagler County Fire Rescue are certified for the team.
Training like this is done throughout the year for each of Fire Rescue’s specialized teams.
“We do this to stay proficient,” Tucker said. “We don’t get many of these calls, and we have to be ready when we do.”