LAKE STEVENS — Water rescue teams in boats and wetsuits from across Snohomish County waded into Lake Stevens on Tuesday to prepare for a drowning.
In this rescue scenario, one person simulated drowning in the water near Davies Beach. Two dummies, each weighing 150 pounds, wearing dress shirts, fake hair and meant to replicate human buoyancy, were also placed in the water at different depths.
Around 10 a.m., firefighters broadcast an “emergency” over the police scanner. Three people were unaccounted for in the water — two adults and a teenager. Dozens of firefighters and police had no prior knowledge of the situation, to make it as realistic as possible, said Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue Lt. Jamal Beckham.
The Lake Stevens Police Department provided a rescue boat and a drone to assist. Firefighters stationed closest to the lake were on the scene first.
Swimmers from Snohomish Regional, the Marysville Fire Department, the Everett Fire Department and Snohomish County Fire District 4 searched for the simulated victims. It took an hour for Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office divers to arrive, a realistic response time considering the distance they would have to travel.
Getchell Assistant Fire Chief Jeremy Stoker also surveyed the area using a drone. Drone technology is fairly new when it comes to assisting water rescues, as law enforcement mostly uses them for securing perimeters, police said.
Beckham, who is also the swiftwater rescue coordinator for Snohomish Regional, was the “live victim” in the simulation. Within 15 minutes, firefighters spotted him and carried him out of the water. Shortly afterward, with help from one of the aerial drones, rescue swimmers recovered a dummy.
Even in calm water, unexpectedly cold water and crowded conditions can make recreational swimming dangerous. Lake Stevens is the busiest lake in Snohomish County, and the Davies Beach area can get so crowded it’s hard to notice when someone is drowning, according to the Snohomish Regional Fire District.
“We try to do our rescue swimmer training leading up to summer, so we’re all fresh and ready,” Beckham said.
In June 2022, two boys drowned and a teenage girl was hospitalized after swimming at Davies Beach. Rescue divers pulled Malachi Bell, 12, and Zander Perry, 13, out of the water. They died at the scene. The swimming area was so crowded that no one noticed they were drowning, fire authorities said.
The rivers of Snohomish County are always colder than the lakes, because of mountain snow run-off, said Peter Mongillo, spokesperson for Snohomish Regional. On Tuesday morning, Lake Stevens was 50 degrees, still considered very cold, Mongillo said.
Fire departments practice a water rescue operation at least once a year. The training usually takes place in May, in preparation for the summer. Last year, water rescue training took place in the Skykomish River, where firefighters practiced live rescues in the swift-moving water.
Swift and calm water rescue operations are completely different, Assistant Chief Stoker said. In rapids, divers can’t be used because of the water’s visibility and speed.
Around 11:15 a.m., swimmers spotted the last dummy victim near the dock about 25 feet down in the water. Everett firefighter John Buban helped pull the 150-pound mannequin out of the water and into a rescue boat.
“It gets really tiring holding your breath for a long time,” Buban said.
Four hours were set aside for the operation if necessary, but all victims were rescued within 75 minutes. At the end of the training, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Daniel Johnson said he was happy with the results of the collaborative effort, and that he wants to work with fire districts even more to ensure faster response times.
“Doing training like this, we can see what we can do and how we can assist each other out,” he said.
Jonathan Tall: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @EDHJonTall.
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