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Firefighters prepare for rescues

BY JOSEPH BELK | JANUARY 27, 2010 7:30 AM

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Firefighter Will Shanahan strapped on a bulky ice-rescue suit the color of an orange traffic cone. Other firefighters inflated an emergency craft.

The gear, used just last weekend to save a 1 1⁄2 year-old yellow lab, is the Iowa City Fire Department’s arsenal for water and ice rescues.

And even though it’s not required statewide, every Iowa City firefighter is trained to use the equipment.

Lt. Brian Rohr was first trained in water and ice rescue roughly 10 years ago. Situations in which the training is put to use by the department are quite rare, he said.

But Rohr, and other firefighters, had that rare opportunity to use that training last weekend to recover the dog, Johnson, stranded on the Iowa River. Rohr donned the rescue suit and entered the water while another firefighter held the end of a tether. As a precaution, another firefighter also began putting on equipment in case things went awry.

All firefighters at the Iowa City Fire Department receive water- and ice-rescue training once a year, Rohr said. Some even travel out of state to train at other departments. Rohr said the extra instruction often becomes part of the Iowa City department’s training regimen.

Iowa City’s firefighters prepare for numerous scenarios in ice-rescue situations. The rescue effort on Jan. 22 did not require a large amount of the department’s equipment and manpower.

Rescuers are trained for more dire situations.

Still, their “first preferred method” is self-rescue, said Lt. Greg Tinnes. The techniques include coaching and directions given by emergency responders from the shore, said Battalion Chief Jim Humston.

But when this and other options are exhausted, emergency responders will begin the “Go scenario.”

The Iowa City department has a rapid-deployment craft among its equipment. The inflatable craft is manned by two rescuers and allows firefighters to quickly enter the water.

Iowa City has been training firefighters in water and ice rescues for more than 25 years. Fire Chief Andrew Rocca said the department was trained in the techniques before he joined the force in 1978. The department began updating its training and equipment in the late-1990s, he said.

Annual training includes getting into ice-rescue suits, learning different techniques of entering the water, and instruction on how to rescue people in a safe manner, Rohr said.

The approach to rescuing a dog trapped in the ice is no different from the procedure to rescue a person, Rohr said.

The Coralville Fire Department also has water- and ice-rescue training for all of its firefighters annually, said Lt. Jeremy Scott.

The state also offers instruction and training for Iowa emergency-response services.

The Iowa Fire Service Training Bureau will host a “fire school” this weekend, which will include water and ice training. There is no state mandate requiring water- and ice-rescue training, though, Bureau Chief Randy Novak said.

Battalion Chief Ken Brown wrote in an e-mail that the Iowa City Fire Department will conduct ice-rescue training again next month.


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