Participants in a water rescue training exercise Monday night in the Nolichucky River near the Erwin Highway bridge didn’t mind getting their feet wet.
The weather was warm and the setting ideal for coordination of training activities by the Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department and Greeneville Emergency & Rescue Squad.
“It’s just a refresher. Safety concerns are first and foremost,” Tusculum fire Chief Marty Shelton said.
Monday night’s training session “was intended for members coming together on the river to refresh in the basics of water rescue and each other,” Shelton said.
“They are going to take the boat on this main (rope) line and take it across and at some point lower it back,” Shelton said, as the swift river current flowed behind him.
“This is something you don’t do all the time so it’s important to stay up on it,” he said.
The joint training exercise has been held annually for about five years.
“It’s familiarization with people and working together and knowing what each other’s capabilities will be,” rescue squad Capt. Kevin “Bucky” Ayers said.
The rescue squad is called out in the event of localized flooding, such as events like the heavy rainfall earlier this year that inundated many Greene County roads, stranding some people in their vehicles.
Volunteer fire departments assisted with rescues, one of the main reasons for the joint training exercise Monday night.
“We could be on a call somewhere else and this could happen right here (on the river). One individual department can’t be everywhere,” Ayers said.
It’s important “knowing what you’ve got and what each department can come with and the capabilities of each department,” he said.
The rescue squad boat was attached to a rope line pulley system to direct it upriver in the current to where a person may be in distress. The scenario involved a situation where a motorized boat can’t be used.
Tusculum firefighters and rescue squad members worked on river safety, terminology, equipment familiarization, and related activities.
Drills included how to launch a bag of rope to a “victim” being swept downstream to remove them from the water and how to use an inflatable boat to reach a victim stranded in the water on top of an object like a car.
Shelton said rope was used to create main-line and pulley systems to help navigate the non-motorized rescue craft.
The rope system guided the rescue squad boat across the river, where it was lowered down to a “victim” who was hauled inside.
The younger firefighters and rescue squad members in the water on a warm, humid evening did not seem to mind.
“That’s part of it. It’s serious training but these people have fun,” Shelton said. “It’s probably 80-degree heat, but these people are smiling and working together.”
Tusculum Mayor Alan Corley, a former Tusculum fire chief, came out to watch and understands the benefits of cooperative training between departments.
“It’s really important for them to train together. At an actual event you don’t have to train them. They’ve already learned it,” Corley said. “They’ve got equipment we don’t have so we have to learn to use it.”
Shelton said the Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department and Greeneville Emergency & Rescue Squad have trained together in previous exercises that include water rescue, rope rescue, vehicle accidents, and farm tractor accidents.
“The two departments have a good working relationship, which provides better service during a real emergency, allowing the two agencies to be more familiar with each other’s equipment and the member’s abilities. Networking and having a working relationship is important to establish prior to meeting for the first time in a real emergency,” Shelton said.
He said the training “provides better customer service when someone is in need of rescue.”
“The lack of issues arising from ‘turf wars’ where you hear about departments not working well with other departments do not exist when you work together to provide a service to the community,” Shelton said.
The drill location along the river and weather conditions “provided a realistic feel to what a fast-moving current will do when the rescuer enters the water for them to maneuver into position to reach a person,” he said.
Participants learned the forces applied to ropes and boats, and the noise created by moving water “that makes whistling and hand signalling your more reliable methods for communication,” Shelton said.
“Radios are only useful if they don’t get wet, lost or other issues rendering them inoperable,” he added.
Upcoming training by the Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department with other departments includes a fill site tanker shuttle exercise Monday night.