When an emergency arises, often times numerous agencies will pull together to find the best, fastest solution to dangerous problems. The more cohesion local emergency response crews have, the better.
Water rescues are frequently necessary at the coast. To better prepare for such an event, crews from Coast Guard Station Tillamook Bay and Nehalem Bay Fire & Rescue conducted a joint training exercise on June 9 in the ocean about a mile out from Manzanita Beach. A dozen Nehalem Bay firefighters worked alongside five Coast Guardsmen on a picturesque Sunday morning.
The primary focus of the training was transferring patients from the fire department’s personal watercraft to the Coast Guard’s 47-foot Motor Lifeboat, simulating both conscious and unconscious victims. Plucking rescuers from the frigid seawater was also part of the training exercise. Special sleds were used with the personal watercraft to tow a patient with a rescuer.
Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Jimmy Thrall, Operations Petty Officer at Coast Guard Station Tillamook Bay, said the training was the first of its kind in the four years he has been stationed in the area. Thrall and Nehalem Bay Fire & Rescue personnel had previously discussed conducting this type of training and a plan was already in place.
“It’s important for both the crews to do this live in a training environment to figure out what works best for each agency,” Thrall said. “We can talk about it in a class room setting but it’s always different out in the actual environment.”
As it turned out, the plan needed a few adjustments that could have been difficult to realize in a live rescue situation. By rehearsing the rescue techniques, the crews were able to find alternatives for a safe, effective transfer from vessel to vessel.
Thrall said during the spring and summer months, the Oregon Coast sees an influx of beachgoers, the majority of whom are unfamiliar with the area, which increases the risk of an emergency incident such as dangerous and deadly falls, distressed surfers and swimmers, and those who become stranded due to tidal changes.
Nehalem Bay Fire & Rescue Division Chief Chris Beswick said both organizations benefited from the opportunity to observe how each other operate. Water rescue team members need to know how to approach the Coast Guard boat, how to get on board, and how to hand off patients who could be badly injured and unable to assist in their own rescue. At the same time, Coast Guardsmen were able train maneuvering through the surf on the fire crew’s personal watercraft.
“There is no substitute for hands-on training; you can talk about how to approach a Coast Guard boat in the water, but it is a whole different story when you are in the water and that bow is looming over you,” Beswick said. “The surf surge and the turbulence of the boat makes maneuvering the jet skis tricky, and that cannot be taught except through actually performing it.”
For Nehalem Bay fire crews, a typical rescue scenario involving these skills might be a surfer or swimmer stranded on the rocks near the shore. A Coast Guard boat would be too large for the shallow depth and a helicopter might not be available, so a water rescue team would be dispatched. Once the victim was loaded onto a rescue sled pulled by the personal watercraft, they could be taken to a Coast Guard boat and rapidly brought to a dock or even airlifted right from the vessel.