Rescue workers perform well in emergency scenario on Oswego Lake

by: VERN UYETAKE   - Lake Oswego paramedic Brian Wheeler talks with LO firefighter Scott Carlson, who portrayed a boater who ran into trouble on Oswego Lake.The drowning exercise held on Tuesday morning on Oswego Lake was sort of a graduation ceremony for the rescue workers of Lake Oswego.

It was the culmination of months under the guidance of Training Chief Randy Hopkins, and the outcome was great. Everybody passed with flying colors. This was good news for a city that is surrounded by two rivers and a lake.

“Firefighters are trained in all aspects of water rescue,” said Gert Zoutendijk, deputy fire marshal for Lake Oswego, who supervised the exercise. “Today, all of the pieces were put together in one package. From talking with Randy, it looked like we did really good, excellent actually. It was what we were looking for.”

Hopkins said, “Full-scale scenarios are very important for us as we work together with our other partners before the real emergency.” by: VERN UYETAKE - A thoroughly soaked diver, Ben Sanders, comes up to get a new air tank. Muddy water in the lake made visibility nearly impossible.

It wasn’t a snap test, however, as conditions were made as close to an actual rescue situation as possible. There was even a lady running up and down the dock on Lily Bay, waving her arms and yelling about how the rescuers weren’t working fast enough. The woman was introduced to Firefighter “Joe” (Dave Morris), who politely informed her she would be restrained if she kept up running on the dock. It was actually Susie Hopkins, Randy’s wife, but she made it look real.

Adding to this rescue pageant were two actors portraying swimmers in need of rescue. Zoutendijk was happy to note their “rescue” was quickly accomplished, with only 15 minutes needed to pull in the first swimmer and 25 minutes for the second. There was also a real raft well out from the shore, simulating an accident in which four people (three kids and their dad) fell off the capsized raft into the water.

Conditions were hardly ideal for the exercise. Even before the actual exercise began, the rescuers had to shuttle a large amount of heavy equipment down a long flight of stairs. The morning weather was unseasonably cold, and the murky conditions of the lake water made visibility almost zero. That made it difficult for divers to find the two mannequins that got entangled in the muck below.

“Everyone did what they were trained to do over the past six months,” Zoutendijk said.

Performing a water rescue is far different from putting out a fire.

“Every firefighter we have has the ability to put out a fire,” Zoutendijk said. “But not every firefighter has the gear to go diving. Water rescue requires a whole different mindset.”

Zoutendijk did an outstanding job himself, smoothly keeping the media informed of what was going on and even coaching TV reporters on how to pronounce his name.

It was a good show. But the possibilities are perilous. Lake Oswego water rescue workers must be ready to respond at the Willamette River, Tualatin River and Oswego Lake. However, they are doing their jobs well. Zoutendijk said there has not been a single drowning on Oswego Lake in his 14 years with the Lake Oswego Fire Department.

There were 25 participants in Tuesday’s water rescue scenario, including representatives of the LOFD, the Lake Oswego Police Department, LOCOM and Lake Corp.

Lake Oswego is part of the Clackamas County Water Rescue Consortium, which includes fire departments from Gladstone, Tualatin Valley, Estacada, Clackamas, Canby and Sandy, as well as the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.

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