TERRE HAUTE —
“Hey! I’m going toward Vincennes!” Matt Cox yelled Friday afternoon as he drifted slowly in the Wabash River.
He wasn’t alarmed, but the Sugar Creek firefighter was getting a little tired of fighting the current in what appeared to be a slow-moving river on a hot July day.
Cox was one of six people in the water as part of a technical water rescue training led by Hidekatsu Kajitani, captain of special operations for the Sugar Creek Fire Department.
Getting the firefighters use to the feel of the current was an important part of the training. Now they will know what a person struggling in the water experiences and how the river can carry a person farther downstream than expected.
“People talk about the Wabash having no current,” Kajitani said of the low water level, “but the Wabash has enough current now to carry someone far downstream.”
After a morning of classroom training, Cox and Kajitani were joined in the water by firefighters Rachel Cary, Josh Milbourn, Matt Adams and Larry Adkinson. Adams and Kajitani have both been certified through the Indiana Water Rescue School in South Bend.
Part of the exercise was to swim from the west bank of the river across to the boat dock at Fairbanks Park. In many places, the river was only waist deep, depending on the height of the firefighter. But for Cox, who was not a strong swimmer, the challenge made the training worth swallowing some river water.
“I’m starting to feel more confident,” Cox said after being hauled into a boat by Cary and Adkinson. “I’m just having to get used to it. The more I do it, the more confident I will get.”
By tying straps to the side of an inflatable watercraft, then wrapping the straps strategically around a floating torso, the firefighters learned how to pull an exhausted person from the water into the boat. They also experienced grabbing a person by a life vest and lifting the person out of the water.
“This is similar to what I did as a lifeguard,” Cary said, recalling a past job with the county parks department. “It’s just learning different ways of rescuing someone.”
Milbourn said the primary tactics of rescuing a person in the water remain the Talk-Reach-Throw-Row-Go method. If a person can be talked to safety by someone on shore giving instructions, that is best. The next step is for the person on shore to reach something such as a branch or a boat oar out to the person in the water.
Throwing a rope wasn’t as easy as it might seem, but when the firefighters got the feel of the rope bag, they had good success reaching their comrades in the water. Rowing out to a person would be the next option, with the final action for rescue being for the rescuer to go into the water to assist the person in trouble.
The Sugar Creek team is the only fire department in the area certified for swift water rescue. The benefit of Friday’s training was the experience for those not certified in water rescue.
“Even for the members who aren’t on the team, when they get training like this, it helps us out,” Milbourn said.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.
com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.