Firefighters perform a rescue drill during the Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue’s annual Water Rescue Academy in the Skykomish River on Thursday in Index. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Firefighters perform a rescue drill during the Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue’s annual Water Rescue Academy in the Skykomish River on Thursday in Index. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

As weather warms, firefighters train for rescues on the Skykomish

Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue sees about 20 to 25 water calls per year. Many of those are preventable.

INDEX — Rescue teams in red and bright yellow neon suits waded into a rushing Skykomish River on Thursday in the rain and cold.

In this rescue scenario, one man played victim and floated downstream through whitewater rapids. A second man, playing the role of rescuer, swam out to retrieve him. From the shore, a third and fourth handled a rope securely attached to the rescuer.

It was one of many drills this week during Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue’s annual Water Rescue Academy.

As the weather warms, Snohomish Regional Lt. Jamal Beckham had a few safety tips for the public for river recreation:

“Scout the river and know what you’re getting into,” he said. “Make sure you wear a lifejacket and are prepared for the cold water. You may need to wear a wetsuit or some kind of extra clothing. Water cools you 2o to 30 times faster than the air and you can get hypothermic.”

Dozens of firefighters from five districts participated in the five-day training, which has been held for the past five years.

Water rescue calls have increased for many fire departments, Beckham said. The district responds to about 20 to 25 water calls a year within Snohomish County, he said.

“A lot of departments are starting to build up their water rescue teams,” said Beckham, who is also the water rescue team coordinator. “For a lot of (firefighters), this is their initial training for swift water rescue.”

People need to get rescued for many reasons, he said. Often, they fail to wear a lifejacket or underestimate the swift currents or cold water. Sometimes, rafters or floaters run into trees or other obstructions that pin them down.

Portions of the Skykomish River can be particularly treacherous, if one is not prepared. Some have died.

Since 2018, at least 21 people have accidentally drowned in rivers, lakes and the marine waters of Snohomish County, according to data from the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. About half of them died in a river.

“We have sections of this river that are nationally renowned Class 5 rapids that are super technical,” Beckham said.

The first two days of the training focused on rescues in lakes. For the remaining three, firefighters got to experience swift water.

“This one’s a little more fun,” firefighter Soren Johnson said with a smile about Thursday’s training in the river’s current.

In the morning, they practiced eddy jumping, swimming from one safe area to another through rapids. In the afternoon, they took a longer swim and practiced rescue techniques.

“You look out and see a river that is raging — it’s intimidating,” Johnson said.

By the end of the training, he hoped to learn how to safely cross the river and complete a rescue.

A rescuer can throw a rope bag to a victim, or swim out to someone floating down the river. Belayers then pull them back to shore.

Beckham said the goal is to use the lowest-risk techniques first.

“Our whole mentality is we’re safe first,” he said. “If we get ourselves into trouble, we can’t help.”

Jacqueline Allison: 425-339-3434; jacqueline.allison@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @jacq_allison.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

Grayson Huff, left, a 4th grader at Pinewood Elementary, peeks around his sign during the Marysville School District budget presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
State OKs Marysville plan with schools, jobs on chopping block

The revised plan would mean the loss of dozens of jobs and two schools — still to be identified — in a school district staring down a budget crunch.

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

The Trestle’s junction with I-5 is under evaluation (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Here’s your chance to give feedback on the US 2 trestle and its future

Often feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and on shaky ground? So is the trestle. A new $17 million study seeks solutions for the route east of Everett.

Lynnwood
Suspected DUI crash injures trooper on I-5 north in Lynnwood

WSP spokesperson said two suspected impaired drivers have crashed into a state trooper in the past 24 hours.

John Pederson lifts a flag in the air while himself and other maintenance crew set up flags for Memorial Day at Floral Hills Cemetery on Friday, May 24, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Volunteers place thousands of flags by veterans’ graves in Lynnwood

Ahead of Memorial Day, local veterans ensure fellow military service members are never forgotten.

People hang up hearts with messages about saving the Clark Park gazebo during a “heart bomb” event hosted by Historic Everett on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Future of historic Clark Park gazebo now in hands of City Council

On June 5, the Everett council is set to decide whether to fund removal of the gazebo. It could be stored elsewhere.

Brian Hennessy leads a demonstration of equipment used in fire training at the Maritime Institute in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
‘Ready to go full sail’: Maritime Institute embarks at Port of Everett

The training facility offers Coast Guard-certified courses for recreational boaters and commercial vessel operators.

George Beard poses for a photo outside of the the Stanwood Library in Stanwood, Washington on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
From sick to the streets: How an illness left a Stanwood man homeless

Medical bills wiped out George Beard’s savings. Left to heal in his car, he got sicker. Now, he’s desperate for housing. It could take years.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Lawsuit says Snohomish County deputies not justified in Sultan shooting

Two deputies repeatedly shot an unarmed Sultan man last year, body camera video shows. An internal investigation is pending.

An airplane is parked at Gate M9 on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. (Jordan Hansen/The Herald)
Good luck to Memorial Day travelers: If you’re like me, you’ll need it

I spent a night in the Chicago airport. I wouldn’t recommend it — but with flight delays near an all-time high, you might want to pack a pillow.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Friday, May 24

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.