By Andrea Arnold
Members of the Robson Valley Search and Rescue (SAR) team recently participated in a 2.5-day Swiftwater Rescue Technician training course. The course was put on by Raven Rescue, a Smithers-based, Canada-wide rescue training organization.
The group worked through the classroom portion Friday October 1, before stepping into live experiences on Saturday and Sunday in local rivers. Member Jeff McNaughton organized the training to get the group ready in case their services are needed in high or fast water situations.
“Pretty much to do any rescue on any of the rivers here, we needed to become swift water technicians,” said McNaughton.
SAR operates under Emergency Management BC and uses the National Fire Protection Agency definition of swift water, which is water moving over 1.85km/hour.
In the classroom, SAR members covered Rescue 3’s philosophy, swiftwater dynamics, personal equipment, risk management, drowning and medical conditions related to swiftwater, introduction to ropes, knots and gear and dryland rope work.
They moved to the Dore River on Saturday, then the Beaver/Holmes on Sunday for first hand experience. Each member had many opportunities to enter the water from a variety of heights and quickly learn how to get to the goal. The goal could be the other shore, a small island, a rock or even a person standing in the water. In addition to the physical aspect of the two on-site days, they reviewed key concepts and did a site safety assessment each day, covering basic river signals, throw-bagging shallow water crossings, swimming skills, hazard avoidance, swimming rescues and rope work on Day 1.
Day 2 built on these skills and then also included tension diagonals, a swiftwater rescue scenario, written examination and debrief. Successfully completion of the course provides certification for three years.
During Sunday’s exercises, members took turns jumping from a variety of heights into the base of the falls. They were given instructions as to the distance they needed to jump from the rockface as well as the angle needed to reach their specified destination. Once a jumper was ready to take the leap, they signaled the other members who were standing by in case help was needed. Once each member in the chain signaled they were ready, the member jumping took the plunge to the icy water. Upon surfacing, the individual used a calm and controlled swim to move themselves to shallow waters.
The participants were equipped with rescue personal flotation devices, dry suits, helmets, and rope throw bags. Also a rescue kayak was on the water to use for some training, and in case a situation called for more than they could provide on foot.
They were instructed to wear layers of wool or fleece under their dry suits (socks included) for added protection against the cold, and comfortable shoes big enough to fit over the dry suit socks. They were treated to the warmth of the sun during their out of water times, but needed to be fully protected while in the water. The equipment was working well, as one participant commented that their feet were staying warm.
“I think everyone enjoyed the training,” said McNaughton. “We all got to do some pretty incredible swimming in a moderately controlled setting.”
This internally funded training was the first of its kind that the group has had the opportunity to experience together. Other training they have done includes a SAR group course for new recruits and avalanche safety training.
Robson Valley SAR is a group of volunteers that conduct search and rescue missions within the Robson Valley. It currently consists of about 30 team members, along with the support of industry professionals such as the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and avalanche professionals when needed. The group responds to an average of 35 calls a year, spread out through the year—no one season is busier than another.
In order to become a volunteer, individuals must be 16 or older and feel they have the time and capacity to be a part of the SAR team. There is no scheduled intake time set aside, so anyone interested in more information can contact any of the current members.