Preparing for the worst on water
Summer is the time for good times on the water, as the warm weather allows for fun on Oswego Lake and the Willamette and Clackamas rivers.
But the Clackamas County Water Rescue Consortium wants to be ready for those inevitable bad times that happen.
That is why the organization held its first-ever media event on June 10 at George Rogers Park in Lake Oswego, which attracted nearly every fire department in this area with a rescue team.
'All of the teams within a four-county area were invited to be here,' said Brad Loehner, battalion chief for the city of Lake Oswego Fire Department and captain of the rescue team. 'We see each other on calls, but we never have a chance to be together in a non-emergency setting to see just what we have and how it functions - boats, personnel and divers.'
'It's right before swimming and boating season, so it's good to see what tools we have for water rescue,' said Scott Carlson, director of the consortium, who had the idea to hold the media event.
Even beyond the monthly meetings and occasional multi-agency rescue drills, Carlson said, 'This event helps us get a better idea of what we can use to respond with.'
The timing of the media event was nice since it marked the founding of the CCWRC 10 years ago. The consortium gave cohesion to the water rescue teams of area fire departments, which started forming in the late 1970s.
Lake Oswego was one of the first fire departments to form such a squad, and Loehner noted, 'It took us 10 years to get organized and acquire the resources that we needed.'
Loehner credits the consortium with providing excellent communication between the rescue departments.
'The more familiar each agency is with each other, the better we can act,' Loehner said. 'That's important because we can respond anywhere in Clackamas County and some places in Washington. We can even go to Multnomah County or Yamhill County if we're needed.'
Good communication between agencies is important because, even though the media event attracted an impressive array of rescue crafts, resources are tight when it comes to an actual rescue operation.
'For a typical water rescue operation there is one boat with three trained operators and one dive rescue vehicle with firefighters,' Loehner said. 'There are seldom too many people on the scene. We can always use more personnel and boats. We basically max out all of our resources.'
With this the case, preparedness is more important than ever because of the increased number of people swimming, fishing and boating during the summer.
'There are a lot more people on the river than there were 30 years ago,' Loehner said. 'Our call volume is increasing. Last year we had 45 water rescue-related calls, which is quite a few.'
This year there have already been 21 water rescue-related calls, and the truly warm weather has not even begun yet.
Lake Oswego Deputy Fire Marshal Gert Zoutendijk had some telling statistics: The Lake Oswego team was activated eight times over the weekend of May 17 and six of those calls came on just one day. Over the last seven years the team has been activated an average of 40 times.
Almost as important as gathering rescue teams together at the media event was the attention received from television stations and newspapers.
'What we really want to do is get the word out,' Carlson said. 'We're gearing up for rescue season, which lasts from Memorial Day to Labor Day.'
Carlson was quite pleased with how the consortium's first media event turned out, and he said, 'We hope we can make this an annual thing.'
The Clackamas County Water Rescue Consortium members are: Clackamas County Sheriff's Office Marine Patrol, Clackamas County Fire District No. 1, Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, Estacada Fire District, Sandy Fire District, Gladstone Fire Department, Lake Oswego Fire Department and Canby Fire District.
Other participating agencies included Portland Fire and Rescue, Gresham Fire and Emergency Services, Hillsboro Fire Department, U.S. Coast, Newberg Fire Department, American Medical Response and the Oregon State Marine Board.
Be safe, not sorry
Scott Carlson of the Clackamas County Water Rescue Consortium has a lot of good tips he can give people about practicing water safety this summer.
But one stands out above any of them: Wear a lifejacket.
'That's the biggest one,' said Carlson, who initiated the first water rescue media event on June 10 in Lake Oswego. 'That's our hope for the public. A majority of our calls come from people not wearing lifejackets.'
Carlson noted that, even though the weather is warmer, the water in lakes and rivers is not.
'The (water) itself is very cold,' Carlson said. 'With the Clackamas and Willamette rivers the water is even colder because of the melting snow.'
Statistics from the United States Coast Guard show why wearing lifejackets is so important: In 2006 there were 474 boaters who died from drowning and 423 of them were not wearing a personal floatation device or a lifejacket.
PFDs can also protect against death due to cold-water immersion and hypothermia, another major killer in boating accidents.
More boating safety advice can be obtained at the Web site www.boatoregon.com under the department 'safe boating.'