After year of training, firefighters use whitewater course opening as test

benw@ledger-enquirer.comMay 25, 2013 

Opening the whitewater course on the Chattahoochee River Saturday gave the Columbus Department of Fire & Emergency Medical Services a chance to test a year of training for the event.

"We're actually using this weekend as a test gauge to see if we are going to have any problems with it," said Deputy Chief Robert Futrell. "So far everything is running pretty smooth. The water has been down today."

With an estimated 7,500 people downtown to watch rafters on the river, the Dragon Boat Festival and other events, Futrell said 14 firefighters were stationed along the river banks. There were crews on the banks with boats ready to place in the water if they were needed.

"We don't have them in the water because we don't know where we might need them," Futrell said. "We have them set up on carts where we can get pretty much anywhere in the water."

Futrell said crews expected to be stationed along the river until 6 or 6:30 p.m. "We are going to wait for those and we will pack up after that," he said. Later in the evening, the outfitter taking people on trips will be looking for issues and call 911 if there is a problem.

Georgia Power was set to allow more water over the dam, increasing the flow on the river after 6 p.m. "After that, we will see if there are any other issues we have to worry about," he said.

Fire Chief Jeff Meyer said Fire Station No. 1 on 10th Street takes care of the swift water rescues on the river.

"We have been training for a year for this," the chief said. "We want to see what it looks like so we can be better prepared."

Meyer wouldn't state whether the rescue team is ready for anything, but said it's prepared to take a call for swift water rescue. "As far as I know, everything is going great," he said. "Looks like the whitewater project is going to be a great success."

In a department that frequently gets calls to fight fires, respond to medical calls and hazardous materials, Meyer said the whitewater course is just one more service.

Richard Bishop, president of Uptown Columbus Inc., said the Dragon Boats attracted a crowd to downtown.

"We are very surprised by the attendance we have with the Dragon Boats," he said.

Bishop said officials may meet Saturday night or today to determine if any changes are needed.

"There are always things we can do to tweak it," he said. "I don't have a list right now, but we will have them by the middle of next week."

One change is already apparent to Bishop. "Yes, we needed more rest rooms," he said.

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