ATCEMS trains along the Guadalupe for future swift water rescues

As the sun shines down on the Guadalupe River first responders lay out their rescue gear. Conditions are prime for swift water rescue training following the Memorial Day floods.

"You're seeing water here on the river we haven't seen in years," said Austin-Travis County EMS Division Chief Mikel Kane. "We have a great opportunity to train and train hard," added Kane.

ATCEMS is adding more first responders who are skilled in swift water rescues.

"It gives us waves we need and swift moving water along with current flows that are dynamic," said Kane.

Crews loaded boats in the water and first responders suited up. The new class of future swift water rescue technicians focus on swimming. They are trained to take a defensive position with their toes and bottom up and head faces downstream.

Tuesday the water was moving at 5,700 cubic feet per second. While that's fast according to Kane it's nothing like what crews experienced when the Blanco River flooded in Wimberley. Many of them worked the Memorial Day floods. Kane was part of Texas Task Force 1 and was assigned to work in College Station to make sure resources were where they needed to be.

"It's humbling. Given the drought we haven't had the same access to this training and it allows us to bring new members into this environment and keeps our level of readiness very high," said Kane. In years past crews would have to travel as far away as Tennessee to train in similar conditions.

"The power of water is relentless and it's cold and it can kill you in a matter of minutes," said Kane.

"The same thing applies if you're washed away as it does to the rescuers keep your feet downstream so you can push off things and keep your eyes up to see what is coming," said ATCEMS Division Commander Bryan Fitzpatrick who has worked as a first responder for 21 years. Fitzpatrick has taught swift water rescue classes for more than a decade.

ATCEMS invited FOX 7 along to suit up. The river is powerful even with gear on. Crews train on how to read the way the water is flowing and look for where the current moves. During an event they are also forced to deal with debris and whatever else the water washes away.

"We're coming into hurricane season and the threat of flash flooding in Central Texas is always a possibility," explained Kane which is why he and others stress the importance of remembering the saying turn around, don't drown.

"Every bit of time in the water pays off when we have another Memorial Day floor or Onion creek and it will be dark and difficult but they will be ready.

Crews from around the state are taking advantage of conditions along the Guadalupe. Tuesday agencies from Shertz and Laredo were also training. ATCEMS will conduct night time operations and plan to work into next week.


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