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Illinois River Firefighters Train In Airboat Emergency Response

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Members of the Illinois River Fire Department train to save lives on the river. Members of the Illinois River Fire Department train to save lives on the river.
The Illinois is a beautiful river, but lives have been lost there. The Illinois is a beautiful river, but lives have been lost there.
The service is expensive but worth it, firefighters say. The service is expensive but worth it, firefighters say.
CHEROKEE COUNTY, Oklahoma -

Emergency crews are getting extensive training that could save lives on the Illinois River. During the peak floating season, they respond to as many as a dozen calls each day on the water.

The Illinois River Fire Department is getting specialized air boat training for many of its volunteers. That airboat is invaluable in getting them to places they need to be on the river during an emergency.

At Diamondhead resort, firefighters with the Illinois River Fire Department are wrapping up a week's worth of airboat training.

They're practicing some of the skills they learned from a joint training session with highway patrol airboats.

"Training, training, training, running up and down the river, going over logs and brush piles. Gravel bars," said Firefighter Jerry Hammons.

The fire department is working to increase the number of volunteers qualified to operate the airboat.

One of the main reasons it's so valuable is because the airboat can get crews to just about anywhere they need to get on the river during an emergency.

"It's a valuable resource," Hammons said. "Airboat is the only thing that can navigate the in and out of the river, on the low spots or you don't have access."

"Once we get it into the water, we can go anywhere we need to," said Firefighter Terry Braden.

Operating and maintaining the airboat can be expensive, but with 50 miles of the river to cover, the fire department says it's money well spent.

"Yes, it costs us a lot to operate, but in the end, if you save one person, it's well worth it," Braden said. "No matter what it costs."

While they want people to come out and enjoy the river in one of the most picturesque settings in Oklahoma, conditions along the river can change.

"It's the most perfect river in Oklahoma, or close to it," said Firefighter Jerry Hammons with the Illinois River Fire Department.

Firefighters want to be ready, in case they're needed. The fire department will conduct more air boat training over the next week or two, before the summer floating season really gets going.

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