LETHBRIDGE – As southern Alberta winds whipped up choppy waves on Stafford Lake east of Coaldale Tuesday, June 12, 20 firefighter/paramedics with Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services spent the day on the water sharpening their skills.
They are contending with those rough waters for their watercraft training, which is part of a four-day course. The three vessels they train on are a weir-deck, zodiac, and river/jet boat.
“Our guys are taking the boats out and we're running them through a course,” explained water rescue team leader Brendon Pyne. “It's designed to just get them to know the capabilities of the boats at their peak speed, how they handle cornering and what not, just in case they need to be in that sort of a situation.”
While the gusty west-winds make for cold conditions for the firefighters who are constantly getting splashed, Pyne said it’s a good thing for them to have to deal with.
“Practising in weather like this, I think it's a huge benefit for us,” he stated. “It lets our guys know that we don't always have optimal conditions and it lets them know when there's waves how these boats are going to handle. It's hard to simulate that on a perfect day.”
The specific things they are working on include going fast through a set course, maintaining control around tight turns, emergency stops, maneuvering in confined spaces, pivoting around a designated spot, and tracking items with sonar.
With the weir-deck they also practice setting up the anchoring system that allows it to operate as a dive-platform. Pyne noted that no one would be going into the water as part of Tuesday’s training.
Following his turn through the course, senior firefighter Warren Molnar discussed the importance of their training.
“The river has gotten a lot busier and we get people in there all the time. There's cliff rocks, debris falling from the coulees, there's sharp objects in the water, there's different depths, the clarity's poor, the water can be cold – so there's a lot of hazards in the river,” said Molnar.
“Out on lakes, when you get the big winds and rolling water and people aren't prepared – surprisingly people still don't wear their life-jackets,” he continued. “And of course, it being summer-time, this is when we're going to get deployed, so we want to be ready.”
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