Every year in British Columbia, several people are swept away to their deaths after straying too close to a raging river during high water.
“This is the leading cause of death and drownings, especially in swift water,” Raven Rescue Canada‘s Karsten von Hoesslin told Global News.
Von Hoesslin has spent the last three days in the North Okanagan teaching the West Kelowna Fire Department how to help prevent some of those deaths.
“This a group of 10 firefighters that was hired a couple of years ago and today is the culmination of their training session right out here on the river,” said West Kelowna fire Chief Jason Brolund.
The cold, rising waters of Cherry Creek, near Cherryville, served as the perfect place for these new recruits to get their feet wet when it comes to river rescues.
“We are ultimately simulating similar situations that West Kelowna fire will encounter in their waters, such as Powers Creek or Bear Creek,” von Hoesslin explained.
The intense, three-day swift water rescue technician course covers a lot of ground and almost all of it is in the water.
“You learn self-rescue techniques, you also learn to actively rescue in hot zone — that’s in the water either with tethered rope work, boat work, anything from medical management to complex rescues in moving swift water,” said von Hoesslin.
It’s dangerous training for the fire crews because a raging river can be unforgiving.
“It is live, it is in the water and a mistake could get them in a potentially dangerous situation quite quickly,” said Brolund.
So what does von Hoesslin suggest you should do in the event that you accidentally fall into a torrent of swift water?
“Self-rescue is key, not to panic; try to swim defensively and float utilizing the current of the river,” von Hoesslin said.
“Always bend your body to the vector of the river, off of 45 degrees so it helps you move in. You want to utilize the river to your advantage.”
But experts will tell you the best way to stay safe is by staying away from fast-moving water, because swift water rescue training is something that the fire department would rather not have to use.