By Shawn Chitnis

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– Firefighters from around the Denver metro area spent the week training for water rescues before getting into Clear Creek on Friday. That’s when they ran through some of the scenarios they will likely face as the water level rises and the danger increases for people enjoying the outdoors.

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“We have to be ready so we start at the beginning of the year because this is the lowest the water will be all year,” said Lee Maulsby, a firefighter and paramedic for West Metro Fire Rescue, as well as an adjunct instructor.

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The five-day class includes time in the classroom as well as most of the week out on Clear Creek. Fifteen students from three other departments, including South Metro Fire, Arvada Fire, and Westminster Fire and seven instructors, participated in the training session.

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Maulsby says by working together they can prepare for larger rescue call that may need multiple agencies to respond to the same incident. The scenarios they trained for included rescuing adults who may or may not be injured as well as recovering bodies from the water.

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“Even at this point, people aren’t going to be able to cross it,” he said. “It’s important to have a life vest anytime you’re in the water.”

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The day of their training the water level was low but there will parts of the creek that they had to avoid as professional rescuers with the appropriate gear. They want to remind everyone to bring a flotation device no matter what their plans are on the water. It is also important to remember that in Colorado, the water is always cold, below 70 degrees, you will lose sensation in your hands. Even with insulated wet suits, the firefighters felt cold in the water below 40 degrees.

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“Somebody is floating down the river and you need to take action immediately,” Doug Piccone, a firefighter from West Metro. “You have that short span of time in a rescue to make a difference between life and death.”

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Over the week of training, they covered the basics including how to swim in fast moving water. They also covered maneuvering in those conditions and the obstacles like rocks or tree limbs they may encounter in creeks and rivers. They also have to know how to self-rescue. The next day they learned how to do the same in a boat and when to use it for certain rescues. They also cover the rope system needed for some scenarios. Later on they covered how to throw a rope and catch someone floating downstream so they can be pulled to shore.

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“Be mindful that the water can overcome you before you even know it,” said Piccone.

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The above average snowfall and wet spring suggests this type of training will be put into use over the summer, according to West Metro Fire. Instructors say you need to know your skill level before you enter the water and make sure you pay attention to where you are in relationship to the body of water. You may need to give a clear description to a dispatcher if you call 911.

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“That’s why people are in Colorado, we love being out here,” Maulsby said.

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West Metro Fire advises anyone in fast moving water to try to float feet first, your feet downstream in the direction you’re going, in a half-sitting positon. If you see someone caught in the water, try to throw a rope or a tree branch to them but do not get in the water yourself.

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“We want you want to be in the river and enjoy it but we want you to go home,” he said.

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Shawn Chitnis

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