The Albany Fire Department gathered together personnel from a number of local police and fire departments earlier this month to practice performing water rescues on the Calapooia and Willamette rivers. Anticipating a number of fatal accidents, the department’s fire chief characterized the weeks leading up to Memorial Day as the beginning of the “drowning season.”

He cautioned that the river water would not be warm even if the air temperature was 80 degrees. The training event was designed to give participating personnel a greater chance of saving lives in the event of an accident.

This was the fourth year in a row that the Albany Fire Department has sponsored a multi-agency training event focused on water rescue. Topics examined included swimming, diving and boating. The exercise also included a rescue from a staged accident in which a motor vehicle went over an embankment depositing four people in the water.

Having a number of agencies involved in the training event helps to make it affordable. Only two fire departments in the area have divers; most have boats. When there is a real emergency, personnel and equipment from a number of the agencies are often called upon to work together. The common training enables personnel to work “seamlessly” together.

In fact, this past winter the rescue teams put all of their training to work during the floods. Heavy snow followed by heavy rains put the state’s rivers a few feet above flood stage. The Willamette, for example, was just two feet shy of “major flood state”; local authorities said the flood was a 100-year event. The marine rescuers helped with evacuation as well, including moving a group of homeless people from their camp as the waters rose.

Source: Albany Democrat-Herald, “River rescue rehearsal,” AnneMarie Knepper, May 13, 2012