First responders with the Lethbridge fire department were braving the windy conditions at Stafford Lake on Tuesday to test their boat-handling skills as part of water rescue training.
Obstacle courses and specialized maneuvering was the task at hand for 20 firefighters and paramedics. The choppy winds added a southern Alberta staple to the training runs.
“Practicing in weather like this, I think it’s a huge benefit for us, it lets our guys know that we don’t always have optimal conditions and when there is waves and whatnot, how these boats are going to handle,” team leader Brendon Pyne said.
Rookie and senior members took turns behind the wheel, getting a feel for the boats and gaining experience for future calls over the next few days.
Warren Molnar is a senior firefighter and has taken part in this type of training before. He said it is critical to have an idea of what you can expect before you respond to a call.
“The clarity is poor, the water can be cold, there is a lot of hazards in the river as well as out on lakes,” he said, adding a rescue situation can occur very quickly. “When you get the big winds and rolling water and people aren’t prepared, surprisingly people still don’t wear life jackets.”
Craig Dillman is one of the rookies on the water rescue team with three years under his belt. He said learning from the senior members is critical.
“We have tons of technology that we use – side scanners and we have two or three different kinds of boats, so it’s good to get at their level of experience and they can pass it on to the new guys.”
After the team is put though the paces on open water, they will take to the Oldman River.
“We go through narrow channels, sometimes the water is inches deep and our jet boat is a bigger boat but it can operate in as little as four inches,” Pyne said.
The water rescue team rotates through its main training exercises so the boat handling course won’t be offered for another three years.