July 25th, 2024

LFES float reminder about water safety


By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on June 19, 2024.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman Members of the Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services water rescue team engaged in a training exercise Tuesday morning at the Botterill Bottom Park area in the Oldman River valley.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services engaged in a water rescue training exercise Tuesday to sharpen their skills while also taking the opportunity to remind people of how to stay safe when in the Oldman River.

Charles Schoening, co-team lead with the Water Rescue team, spoke to media Tuesday and said that even though we have a river that is mostly safe, people need to be cautious while out on it.

“There are a few things that they should remember. The biggest one is to wear a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) when they’re recreating on the river, simply having that flotation is going to save your life,” said Schoening.

He said another recommendation is to wear water shoes, as the Oldman River is currently fairly shallow in most places and people could walk to shore without knowing what is underwater.

“Be very careful where you place your feet so that you don’t get your feet caught in any rocks or debris,” said Schoening.

He said in addition to those precautions, residents should let someone know when they will be floating on the river, in case they need to be search for. But also to find a way to keep a charged cellphone with them at all times in case they need to call for help.

“File a float plan, you can do that simply by contacting a family member and letting them know when you’re going to be on the river and when you expect to be off the river, so they know if you’re overdue they can contact emergency services to try to locate you,” said Schoening.

He wants people to keep in mind that the river moves very slow, so to give themselves ample time to arrive at their desired destination when informing someone about it.

“Give yourself plenty of time because it’s going to take you longer than you expect it to be and then people are going to be worried that you’re overdue,” said Schoening.

He said that in case people they become aware they will not be returning on time, to let the person expecting them know and for this he recommends the use of a dry bag to keep a cellphone while on the river.

“Also, don’t overestimate your own ability to swim, stay within your limits and make smart choices,” said Schoening.

He said one of those smart choices he hopes people make it to avoid the use of alcohol while in the water.

“I understand that people like to have fun out on the river and alcohol is part of it for a lot of people, but it’s a good idea to stay sober, stay in your best thinking state of mind when you’re out on the river, make good decisions,” said Schoening.

He said it is very important to be able to make decisions while in the water, and one of those decisions might be to stay away from certain areas or structures while in the river.

“It’s not recommended to be playing in the weir or low head dam by the water treatment plant, they are one of the most dangerous features on a river. The hydrodynamics in that area are very unpredictable so people who aren’t aware of how the water moves can get in a lot of trouble in a hurry,” said Schoening.

He added that another area to stay away from is the High Level bridge, not only because it is private property owned by CP Rail it is not safe to jump into the river as there are many hazards underwater. As well as the water levels right now are not enough to be jumping from high areas into the water.

“We know that lots of people like to use it as something to jump off, there’s ropes hanging off it, but it’s not recommended and LFES definitely recommends against people using that in that way,” said Schoening.

Even though we have not reached the hottest months of the year yet, Schoening said they already have done three boat calls so far, so he is expecting a lot of people to be in the water over the summer and that is why it is so important for them to take part of water rescue training. He added the conditions on tuesday were ideal to train as the water level reflected what they would be dealing with in the hotter months.

“In these particular circumstances, in this low water it’s more realistic to when we’re going to be doing a rescue in those July and August months, when the water levels are starting to drop, so the fact that it slow right now it’s scary from a drought perspective but it’s very good for us practising in these more realistic conditions,” said Schoening.

During the water rescue training exercise Tuesday, Tim Kinahan, a senior firefighter with the department experienced his first time on the rescue boats, as he is new to the water rescue team.

“This is a good opportunity for myself to get out on the river and on the boats to learn what they can do, what we can’t do kind of thing, see the river from a different perspective instead of on shore, so it’s a fun training day. Little cold, but it’s good,” said Kinahan.

He explained that during the training exercise they practised getting people out of the river with a few different methods.

“If they are responsive we have different ways to get them out. Most of the time is grab and pull into the boat,” said Kinahan.

He said they also went up and down the river getting familiar with the boats and their capabilities.

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