Residents and tourists alike wondered what type of operation was underway as two Fire District 4 boats flew up and down the Rogue River for three days on July 15-17. Although entertaining to spectators, the objective of the three days was dead serious as ten firefighters were certified as Swiftwater Rescue Boat Operators.
The class taught the men and women of FD4 to navigate the river in jet
boats, including traveling through rapids and over submerged trees in
varying depths of water. The depth of water changes according to the
flow from Lost Creek Lake, said Fire Chief Bob Miller.
basic skills taught were reading water, eddying out and ferrying.
"Eddying out" is going down the river and using an eddy (circular
current) to maneuver into a calm spot. And ferrying is moving from one
side of the river to the other, not as simple as it sounds.
said that occasionally on the river, a boat may hit a rock or other
piece of debris. The hardest thing the students had to learn was to go
faster when a problem occurs. The natural reaction is to slow down but
speed gets a jet boat higher over the water and the object.
District 4 performs about eight rescues a month during the summer, from
Dodge Bridge to the hatchery. In fact, a rescue took place the first
day of class when two men fell into the river near the "Pump hole" as
their raft hit a "strainer" (immersed tree). Miller explained that both
boats are open so rescuers can "grab somebody from any side of the
As well as performing rescues, personnel also fight
fires from boats in areas along the river and at the lake that are
inaccessible by road. FD4 has two floating pumps, with one capable of
shooting 100 gallons of water per minute and the other 300 gallons per
Although there has been ongoing boat training at the
fire district, this was the first formal class for the firefighters.
Some of the students had never driven a boat, said Miller. But with
Instructors Dick Rice and Andy Dietrich from "Rescue 3 International"
all the students not only learned to drive the boats but felt fairly
confident at the finish of the three-day class.
students ranged from Connor Tacchini, a 21-year-old student in the
Paramedic Program to Captain John Burns who has been at FD4 for 28
years. Tacchini said that after taking the boat through a couple of
rapids, he gained confidence in himself and the boat. Captain Erin
Elder said, "I was a little nervous while trying to get the handling of
the boat down." She had crewed but this was her first time as an
Shady Cove Police Chief Rick Mendenhall was also
on the scene. Mendenhall, a veteran of boat rescues, said with
interagency cooperation, he was able to take part in three rescues this
summer in a police capacity. Both departments are taxed in manpower.
FD4 also cooperates with Fire District 3.
As the summer
progresses, river levels can drop. The patterns of rocks change and
boat operators must learn what part of the river is safe to navigate.
Miller said when the level goes below 1,800 cubic feet per second,
firefighters switch to using rafts in rescue operations. Many times the
rafts are borrowed from the raft shops. It is a reciprocal benefit
because while using the borrowed rafts, rescuers pick up equipment lost
by rafters and return the items to the rental shops.
biggest problem rafters have is not realizing that because the water
current is continuously pushing, rafts do not bounce off rocks and
other debris. During rescues, Miller said many times he is told, "I
thought I would bounce off it."
Miller recommended that
rafters wear life jackets (flotation devices) and not just carry them.
Both raft rental companies and renters will be cited if there is not a
flotation device for each person on board. Children 12 and under must
actually wear the life jackets that should be appropriately sized. Most
people who drown in boating accidents would have survived if they had
worn a flotation device. During the class, firefighters wore both
helmets and life jackets.
During two days of the class, FD4
Support Group members Margaret Bradburn, Betty Goodboe, Cheryl and Ron
Holthusen, Winnie Nichols and Barbara and Dick Wagner prepared lunch
for participants of the course. Ron Holthusen said, "It is a real
privilege to support the fire department."
The course paid
for by FD4 was $450 a student. Miller said it will not be an annual
class but offered every two to three years. Instructor Rice said this
was his third class on the Rogue and he and his partner, Dietrich,
would love to come back. For more information call the fire department
at 878-2666 or check website (www. RESCUE3.com).
By Margaret Bradburn
Of the Independent