Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Deputies Dive Into Rescue Swimmer Training

Cpl. Angela Ison gets ready to toss a flotation ring during a recent training exercise at the River Park Community Pool in Naples. For the first time the Collier County Sheriff’s Office is offering water rescue training for deputies.  Photos by Cpl. Efrain Hernandez/CCSO

A snorkel, mask and fins aren’t standard issue in law enforcement, but some Collier County Sheriff’s Office deputies are packing swim gear.

For the first time CCSO is offering water rescue training for deputies. The goal is to train deputies, who often are the first to arrive on the scene of an emergency, to be proficient as rescue swimmers. Deputies who take the training will have the ability to conduct safe and successful surface rescues, along with shallow water sub-surface rescues.

Rescue swimmer training for first responders is essential in Collier County, said Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, noting the large number of canals, lakes and Gulf shoreline.

“I am committed to providing training to our deputies that will enhance their safety as well as the safety of our residents and visitors,” Sheriff Rambosk said.

The idea to offer the class to deputies came about in the wake of several recent incidents locally where law enforcement officers entered the water in an attempt to save someone and put their own lives at risk, said Cpl. Geoff Fahringer, one of three class instructors, all of whom are certified public safety dive trainers.

“You know at the end of the day these guys are going to jump in the water to try to save someone, so hopefully they will have the proper tools and training to do so,” said Cpl. Fahringer, a member of the CCSO dive team with more than 40 years of diving experience.

The course is designed to provide deputies with the skills and knowledge required to safely and effectively respond to incidents in, on and around the water. This training program is designed to provide skills and confidence needed to protect deputies during a water-involved emergency. The class focuses on skills for evaluating hypothermia, the stages of drowning; how to identify a distressed swimmer, an active drowning victim and a passive drowning victim; shallow water blackout; water rescue tools and their uses; rescue techniques and self-rescue and self-control in an emergency.

Four CCSO deputies traded their gun belts and bulletproof vests for fins and snorkel vests during a recent training session at the River Park community pool in Naples.

The class focused on techniques used to perform water rescues. A variety of training scenarios were covered ranging from rescuing a drowning swimmer from a pool to rescuing someone from a murky canal.

In one exercise, the students practiced tossing a flotation ring attached to a line to the two instructors in the water.

“It’s not rocket science, but I want you to feel the mechanics of it,” Cpl. Fahringer told the students.

Then it was time to put what they practiced into action. Cpl. Fahringer and fellow instructor Cpl. Steve Barber pretended to be panicked swimmers. The students took turns tossing flotation rings to the instructors and then swimming out to them and bringing them in.

Cpl. Fahringer emphasized that a combination of strong swimming and communication are key to a successful rescue.

“I’m coming to you,” Cpl. Sylee Gibson called out as she swam to Cpl. Fahringer. “Grab onto the ring. Everything is going to be OK.”

Cpl. Fahringer grabbed the ring.

“I need you to help me, I need you to kick,” she told him as she led him back to safety.

Once they reached the edge of the pool, Cpl. Fahringer told her, “You had good communication and good speed too. You were fast.”

Cpl. Gibson, a community oriented policing deputy assigned to East Naples, said the training helped to boost her confidence should she ever have to perform a water rescue.

“I never thought it through,” she said. “But when they told me the steps to follow, I did that. I talked myself through it.”

Community Service Deputy Stephan Leoni said he took the class because he has responded to several accidents involving vehicles going into the water.

“I believe it’s a great asset to take a course that teaches you the correct techniques for water rescue and water survival,” he said.

Both Cpl. Gibson and Deputy Leoni said they plan to start carrying swim gear in their go bags.

“Before this I would never have thought about carrying a snorkel and fins, but now I’m going to,” Cpl. Gibson said.

Deputies practice swimming with snorkels and fins during a recent rescue swimmer training exercise. Photo by Cpl. Efrain Hernandez/CCSO

Cpl. Geoff Fahringer, right, and Cpl. Steve Barber demonstrate the proper technique for bringing a distressed swimmer safely to shore.  Cpl. Fahringer and Cpl. Barber are each certified public safety dive trainers. Photos by Cpl. Efrain Hernandez