Rescue crews in Weber County retrieved the body of an 81-year-old Huntsman man who drowned in the Ogden River, while simultaneously in Logan, firefighters and EMTs were on the banks of the Logan River where they practiced shore maneuvers used to rescue a person from fast-moving rivers on Monday.
The irony was not lost on them.
According to Capt. John Cox, they plan and prepare for potential rescues every year, and while they hope for a good outcome, rivers run fast, high and cold during the spring. If a person gets in trouble in the water, things can change rapidly.
The time element is variable based on water temperature, but hypothermia can set in within the first 2 minutes in the water, he said. A person soon begins to lose body strength after that, and cognitive abilities are lost within 5-7 minutes, he said.
A person will still need need to have a little bit of dexterity for this type of rescue, Cox said. As a back-up, another rope is secured to points on each side of the river downstream, where hopefully, Cox said, the victim would have the ability to throw his arms over the rope.
With this in mind, Cox said it is important to work fast, setting up rescue stations at multiple points on the river's edge.
They make it look easy — toss a small, lightweight bag attached to a rope across the river, where, under the best of circumstances, the rope will land over the victim’s torso. The rope is then placed on one shoulder or another, depending on which shore you need to get to, then the rescuers utilize the speed and flow of the river to bring the patient to shore.
However, not every rescue bag hits its fast-moving target, if the victim even makes it downriver to the point where rescuers can stage and be waiting.
“If you don’t find them downstream, then you go back upstream from there,” Cox said.
Sometimes they manage to get out of the water on their own; other times they get caught up in rocks, brush and other debris along the river's edge.
In the pre-planned training scenario used this week, the “victim” got into a kayak at the Denzel Stewart Nature Park and as he worked his way down the river, Cox said, the fictional kayaker encounters a little dam that creates a small waterfall — albeit just big enough to tip the kayaker into the water.
Last week, the water was moving just over 500 cubic feet per second as firefighters started the annual training. By Monday, the flow had decreased by nearly half.
Logan firefighter Bryan Davies, who is trained at the technician level and has the skills for in-water rescue, put on a life-jacket, a drysuit and a helmet and he entered the river over and over on Monday, giving other firefighters the opportunity to practice throwing the ropes and bringing him back to shore.
Sometimes the firefighter or EMT got his aim right, and other times Davies floated on by, with ropes landing all around him but not quite within reach.
During their annual training, they could laugh and kid one another if someone missed the rescue opportunity, but the drowning in the Ogden River that day brought home the seriousness of their work.
“River stuff is pretty dangerous,” Davies said. “We don’t want just anyone going in.”
Firefighters work through this training on an annual basis, with the goal of always having several certified people on duty at each of the city’s three fire stations. This technique is a mid-level skill but if it doesn’t work, it is sometimes necessary for rescuers to enter the water, requiring a higher level of skill and training.