Ala. First Responders Train for Water Rescues
June 15—A Northport firefighter was "rescued" from an overturned flat-bottom boat in Two-Mile Creek on Wednesday afternoon during a flash-flood simulation.
The simulation was organized by the Tuscaloosa County Emergency Management Agency as a method to teach college graduate students attending the Summer Institute for the National Water Center.
The EMA partnered with area law enforcement agencies, fire departments, the American Red Cross, the United Way and several other entities to show the 33 graduate students the planning, equipment and techniques involved in responding to a water-based emergency.
For Northport Fire Rescue, the demonstration was hands-on. They set up in their new ladder truck and used its 95-foot aerial device to lower a stretcher basket into the creek and secure the "victim" while the students watched the drill from the Richard L. Platt Memorial Levee Trail.
Capt. Jason Norris said the simulation was for the students' benefit, but said training for high-risk, low frequency events would prove invaluable in the case of a flash flood or the unlikely failure of the city's levee.
"This is essential training," Norris said. "Technical rescue is what we call a perishable skill, which means if you don't do it very often, you lose that skill. Any opportunity we have to train in things like this, we take advantage of them because repetition is what builds excellence."
Other agencies were also eager to show off the tools they use to respond to disasters and emergencies. A pilot landed one of the Sheriff's Office helicopters nearby and talked to students about the role he plays as a first-responder. Members of the Tuscaloosa Dive Team were there to explain how they use SCUBA tanks and wetsuits to explore the Black Warrior River and nearby lakes when someone goes missing there.
Rob Robertson, the EMA director, said the students in attendance will soon be on the cutting edge of disaster response.
"These students are developing models that will incorporate the latest technologies available and put tools in the hands of first-responders in the field," Robertson said. "These are our PhD candidates and folks that will be making a lot of neat new tools for us to use in emergency management across the nation."
He said everyone involved benefits from events such as this.
"We get to be a part of making tools that are brand new, we get to use and test those here in our county and in Alabama and that's a big benefit to us locally," Robertson said. "But it's also a good chance for our responders to get out and exercise, drill through using their equipment and techniques. This gets them together, to talk and to play together, and that's always a good thing."
This is the third year the National Water Center has hosted the Summer Institute, which is the brainchild of David Mainment, a civil engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Mainment said graduate students across the country competed fiercely for the opportunity to travel to Tuscaloosa for the seven-week program.
One such student was Kathleen Eubanks, who is studying coastal and ecological engineering at Louisiana State University.
Eubanks said she was forced to flee major flooding in Baton Rouge in August and said her studies at the Summer Institute will be a good professional complement to the personal experiences she's lived through in coastal Louisiana.
"Seeing all this gives me a sense of safety and hope," Eubanks said. "Ever since the flood, I'm nervous during every rainfall event, I go check the USGS stream gauges and stuff, you know? But seeing everything that goes into first response and the training they do, what they think about and how they plan, I think they've got it covered."
Eubanks said her first days at the Summer Institute have only driven her to work harder for rest of the program because she understands the value of the work they're doing.
"This demonstration was surreal but motivating," Eubanks said. "It has really fueled me to work because it's my family and it's my neighbors that this kind of work will help."
Reach Stephen Dethrage at firstname.lastname@example.org or 722-0227.
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