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Ohio firefighters learn water techniques in grant-funded rescue boat

Firefighters learned proper maneuvering in a boat, shore-based operations, defensive swimming, victim pickups from the water and how to paddle

Jon Baker
The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia, Ohio

GNADENHUTTEN, Ohio — Firefighters with the Arrowhead Joint Fire District went boating at an abandoned gravel pit Saturday, but it wasn’t for fun and games.

The 16 men were participating in water rescue training conducted by Rescue Methods of Powell, Ohio. They learned how to operate the department’s newly purchased rescue boat, along with proper maneuvering in a boat, shore-based operations, defensive swimming, victim pickups from the water and how to paddle.

Saturday’s training was at an old quarry pond owned by Stocker Sand & Gravel, and today they will be working on the Tuscarawas River.

“The class that they are providing us with is specifically designed for what we anticipate our rescue needs being, like flash flooding, flooding, river operations and operations in small lakes,” said Steven Wright, Arrowhead’s fire chief.

The rescue boat was purchased with a $12,761 grant from the Reeves Foundation. Previously, the department owned a watercraft that was deemed inappropriate for rescue operations with a capacity of 360 pounds and 9.9 horsepower motor. That boat was sold. The new one is designed for the work. It has a capacity of 1,600 pounds and comes with a 30-horsepower Rescue Jet motor.

The grant also paid for the training and for new equipment — four dry suits, life vests, helmets and gloves.

“It’s protective equipment that will allow us to operate the boat safely and in any weather,” Wright said. “Right now the water is really cold. If we would have an incident this time of year, it’s not safe to get into the water in just regular clothing.”

Wright said Arrowhead personnel are very thankful for the Reeves grant and for Stocker Sand & Gravel providing use of the pond.

One of the trainers was Jack Guyton of Delaware, Ohio, who has been a firefighter for 18 years. He learned how to paddle from his father when he was 4 or 5 years old and guided boats professionally on the New River and Gauley River in West Virginia for six to eight years. He now teaches swift water rescue methods.

Saturday, the firefighters focuses on learning how to paddle.

“When you take a boat out on swift water, you always have to be prepared for your motor to quit working, so you’ve got to be able to paddle,” he said. “One of the things we make sure people understand is the proper paddle and the proper paddling technique.”

Today, firefighters will learn how to operate their boat in the river, “because it’s a whole different world on moving water,” Guyton said.

Wright said the growing popularity of canoeing on streams like the Tuscarawas River is the reason behind the training.

“That is exactly why we’re doing this,” he said. “We had a few incidents in our coverage area here over the last couple of years and we want to be able to respond to those better.”

Guyton said people are going out on rivers without understanding what they are getting into.

“If they would go out and take canoeing classes and other types of classes like that, they would be better off,” he said.

Often, boaters don’t use the proper personal flotation device — or any at all.

“So that’s why we’re always big on educating people on what to wear in the boat,” Guyton said. “I always tell people and rescuers that if you put any boat on any water anytime and anywhere, you should be prepared to swim in that water, because anything can happen.

“I’ve seen fishing boats flip over and people go in and drown because they weren’t ready for that. I’ve seen boats flip on moving water, which we expect that to happen, and they were not prepared to swim because they didn’t think they were going to. You’ve always got to have that in the back of your mind.”


©2019 The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia, Ohio