Using a weighted rope to trip someone trapped in the rocks of a rushing river rapid might seem a cruel trick, but that's what Columbus and Phenix City firefighters practiced Wednesday in the Chattahoochee River.
The maneuver is intended to save someone who upon falling into the water tries to stand up, getting a foot caught between rocks. Rescuers throw a rope weighted to fall at the person's feet and pull it to trip him or her into the current, from which the victim then can be fished out downstream.
Rescuers also practiced using an inflated fire hose as a rescue device. Using the same type of pressurized tank they employ for breathing in a burning building, they hook it to a capped hose and open the valve.
Columbus Fire Capt. Brent Morris said a 100-foot hose will fully inflate in just 15 to 20 seconds with this technique. The stiff, floating hose then can be thrust across the water to someone trapped on the other side.
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Morris said 37 rescuers were training at Cut Bait rapid on the river's Phenix City side Wednesday -- 30 from Columbus and seven from Phenix City. They practiced in shifts of 14 each.
They're getting ready to rush to the rescue should anyone become trapped on Columbus' 2.5-mile whitewater course expected to open next year.
The Columbus Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services also is breaking in new river rescue equipment after the city purchased about $31,000 worth.
Firefighters were out Wednesday in brand-new, bright red "dry suits," which unlike diver wet suits keep them dry in the water and enable them to suit up much quicker in an emergency, without stopping to doff all their other clothes.
The "swift-water rescue" techniques they're practicing are unlike what they've been used to for years. Morris said their typical rescue operation has been sending a boat up the river to pluck someone off a rock after the water rose from dam releases upstream. Such strandings have been commonplace because of people hiking out on the rocks to fish at low water and staying there as the current comes up, cutting off their safe path back to the riverbank.
Now firefighters have to be prepared to pull people out of whitewater rapids, which requires more hands-on work, often with divers going into the current to get to a distressed swimmer