Tulsa Firefighters Prepared For Dangerous Swift Water Rescues

Monday, June 14th 2010, 9:43 pm
By: News On 6

By Tara Vreeland, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- Monday's water rescue of 17-year-old Raquel Dawson of Oklahoma City had a happy ending. But that isn't always the case. Tulsa firefighters are trained and on standby for flooding events like what happened in Oklahoma City.

6/14/2010 Related Story: Amazing Flood Rescues Caught on Video

The boat the Oklahoma City firefighters used to pull everyone to safety is identical to one operated by firefighters here in Tulsa. It's specifically designed for swift water rescues.

"It's a different element that we get in less," said Captain Mick Fenn, Tulsa Fire Department. "It's uncontrollable. It's non-yielding."

Swift water rescues are a consequence of Oklahoma's extreme weather.

"In fact, swift water rescue is the most dangerous thing a firefighter can be involved in," Captain Fenn said. "Percentage-wise it takes more firefighters lives from an accidental standpoint than anything else we do."

It's because of these storms and Oklahoma's abundance of lakes and rivers that Tulsa's Fire Department has a Technical Rescue Task Force.

The city has five rescue boats at various locations. One is used frequently on the Arkansas River.

"It's designed to be unsinkable, with three chambers filled with air so if the first one is punched through, it still should not sink," he said.

The boat can hold over 1,000 pounds. It also has a locator to show water depths, a communication radio, emergency and search lights, plus the necessary rescue equipment like life jackets, helmets, ropes and medical devices.

"It gets maintained just like a fire truck," said Captain Fenn. "We come in the morning and do basic checks. Obviously we were hooked up and ready to go today. The engine has been started, the radio was checked."

But even with the right equipment, Captain Fenn said water rescues are unpredictable. He said if you do find yourself in a situation like the teen in Oklahoma City, don't try to swim to safety.

"Current is something a lot of people don't understand," he said. "It's not just the water, it's the current and the other hazards that come along with that."

Instead, grab hold of a sturdy tree and hold on tight until help arrives.

Captain Fenn says you can also help them by not attempting what he called a half-hearted rescue. He says as humans we naturally want to help, but that could cause more problems for rescue crews.