SWIFT WATER MM 01

Waco firefighters Dwayne Ellis, from left, Billy Eary and Nick Guerrero practice victim rescue during swift water training at Miller Springs Park in Belton on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Michael Miller/Telegram

BELTON — Between 20 and 30 swift water rescue team members from the Central Texas area pushed themselves up to and beyond their limits this week.

As the water rushed from Lake Belton at about 4,709 cubic feet per second, foaming and roiling as it made its way to the Leon River, firefighters worked on their swift water rescue skills and techniques — all for the purpose of saving lives, Temple Fire & Rescue Training Capt. Jonathan Christian said Tuesday.

Firefighters from Temple, Killeen, Waco and Morgan’s Point Resort put on their gear, readied their equipment and entered the swift-moving water at Miller Springs Park — some in motorized boats and others in the water.

Killeen is one of the more advanced groups and led the training since they do a lot more swift water operations, Christian said. This week’s training gave the Temple group experience with a boat, which will make things simpler once the department has its own.

Temple has a rescue boat on order that will be similar to the vessels that Morgan’s Point Resort and Belton Fire Department have. A State Farm Insurance grant for $20,000 enabled the department to purchase a boat for the swift water rescues. Also, a trailer will be purchased to transport the boat.

“Not having to wait on a neighboring fire department’s boat means the rescue can be conducted in a timely manner,” spokesman Thomas Pechal previously pointed out.

Temple Fire & Rescue trained in November with their Killeen counterparts. 

The department has been trying to get a special operations group going since each area rescue group has only a small number of trained individuals, Christian said. With the larger number of people trained and available, everyone can help each other out when needed.

With that in mind, the groups stay in close contact with each other, he said.

The three-day training, which started Monday and concludes today, was scheduled to take advantage of the water being released from the lake, Pechal said.

Each day begins at 8:30 a.m. and concludes at 5 p.m. A nighttime training session was held Monday evening. The objectives included rescuing defensive swimmers, using rescue throw bags and boat operations.

Rough water training

Different parts of the waterway were used for different training objectives, Christian said, as he pointed out the turbid water near the dam’s release point.

A raft in the middle of the water, linked to land by a rope stretched across and secured to land, pitched in the turbulent water. A motorized raft transported a person to it, who climbed into the empty raft. The small crew in the motorized raft left the lone person in the raft, and that was to simulate a car trapped in deep water with a person inside or on top of it, Christian said. Then the motorized raft worked its way to the trapped person, who was assisted into the rescue boat.

Trying to use row boats or big boats won’t work in the rough, swift water, he said.           

In the quieter, but still strong current of the Leon River, firefighters clung to trees in the high water, while others practiced their rescue methods.

There are still unseen obstacles in the high water that could create issues — like low water dams, fences and other things that could “catch people up,” Christian said.

Everyone trained in every situation and practiced things over and over again while rotating in and out to get more experience, Christian said.

“Hopefully we don’t have to (perform rescues), but we know it’s going to happen and we want to be prepared,” he said.

Drones, which can spot people or reveal conditions, were used during the training, Christian said.

Christian doesn’t know why people insist on going on in the water when conditions aren’t good, he said. If they didn’t, drowning and other dangerous conditions could be avoided.

He didn’t know if a lot of people would go to the lakes for the Memorial Day weekend because of the flooding, water conditions and closed parks, but Christian said he imagined a lot of people would still go.