Training gives glimpse of marine, helicopter rescues
Exercise provides vital hands-on training for lifesaving tactics
As a U.S. Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter hovered above the Columbia River in St. Helens Friday, Feb. 12, birds scattered as emergency responder boats moved in toward the aircraft.
Firefighters from Scappoose Fire District, the Port of Portland, Portland Fire and Rescue, and Clark County Fire convened at the docks behind the Columbia County Courthouse for a day-long training exercise. Deputies in a small marine vessel from the Columbia County Sheriffs Office also participated, while Columbia Countys Emergency Management staff stood by on a nearby dock, communicating by hand-held radios.
The exercise, which started at the Scappoose airport, gave emergency responders real life scenarios ranging from swiftwater rescue and radio communication to helicopter loading.
This kind of training is invaluable, said Jeff Pricher, division chief with Scappoose Fire District. That last thing you want to have to do is learn this stuff on the fly.
Pricher coordinated the training exercises as sort of a get-together between agencies that provide mutual aid to each other.
Utilizing helicopters and boats during emergency rescues isnt uncommon in the county, but oddly, not all emergency responders are trained for those scenarios.
Scappoose Fire District is the only rescue agency in Columbia County with the resources for marine rescue, Pricher said. Its also the only agency equipped to handle a swiftwater rescue.
In December, the districts firefighters were called out to a swiftwater rescue in Clatskanie, where a Jeep made its way into heavy flood waters with two passengers trapped inside.
The water was nearly chest-deep, and rescue crews couldnt immediately locate the SUV. The Jeeps driver was able to free himself, though his wife died inside.
Fridays training exercise allowed crews to practice loading swiftwater gear into a helicopter, but more importantly, it reminded them just how powerful the aircrafts rotors can be.
The rotor wash is pretty close to gale force, so when youre operating underneath it, its pretty significant, Pricher noted.
We were practicing what it would take if we had to raise a patient off a boat using the helicopter, if the boat was either underway or standing at station, Pricher explained.