People may have seen a lot of activity at Rock Park last week when firefighters appeared to pull a body out of the Truckee River, but fortunately the Sparks Fire Department was simply conducting its regular training.
Sparks has a Water Entry Team comprised of 18 members in three battalions that conduct a monthly water rescue exercise, but this time all five agencies including Sparks Fire, Reno, Truckee Meadows, the Hasty Team, and REMSA all trained together. Training generally takes place at a swift water rescue point on the Truckee River as well as a still water exercise on the Sparks Marina.
“Every member of our WET (Water Entry Team) has completed a 30-hour Swiftwater Rescue course and a 20-hour Inland Water rescue course. Many have advanced training in swift water, boat operations, rope rescue, incident command, search techniques, et cetera, and each member of the team attends approximately 8 hours of training a month,” says Sparks Fire Apparatus Operator and Water Rescue Instructor Jeff Prokosch.
Prokosch says that last weekend’s rescue was the first combined training that it has held with all the partner agencies, mimicking a real-life situation.
“In a real rescue we rely on many agencies from around the area including: Sparks Police, Washoe County Sheriff’s Department Hasty (volunteer search and rescue team) and RAVEN (Regional Aviation Enforcement), Reno Fire, Truckee Meadows Fire and REMSA,” he adds.
On an average year, the Sparks Water Entry Team rescues about 20-25 people out of the Reno/Sparks lakes and tributaries but on big water years like right now, the number can be substantially higher. This spring season especially raises concern with the Truckee River flowing high and unpredictably matched with colder water temperatures caused by the above-average snowfall that blanketed the Sierra this past winter.
Some of the most common water-related incidents that occur in Northern Nevada are people who enter the Truckee River underdressed/underprepared for its cold waters- the quick onset of hypothermia is a major factor in most of their rescues. Prokosch reiterates that properly life jackets and cold-water gear can help minimize the need for rescue.
However, some incidents have happened anywhere from people falling in when the area’s in a flood stage to people getting drunk and stuck in a part of the rushing water. Prokosch says that some of the most memorable recoveries include pulling out bodies from transient people and an incident where they were able to pull one woman out and perform CPR on her in time to save her life, at least in time for her daughter’s birthday the following day.
Lately, all the team’s trainings have been held on the Truckee River due to the high flow.
“The river is still snow runoff and extremely cold and running very high and fast. Even if the weather is nice out, hypothermia can set in within minutes of being in the water,” says Prokosch.
Prokosch also advises people to recreate responsibly on the water by following these rules: “Always have a buddy, life jackets are a must on anyone that’s not a good swimmer and highly recommended even on those that are. Consume alcohol responsibly and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day”.
Finally, Prokosch states, “The joint effort and combined training of all the regional responders will help us be better prepared for the water rescues we will have to do this spring. The best way to improve our success rate is to first, prevent people who are unprepared from entering the river, and second, to continue to improve the knowledge and skills of our local first responders so that we may better effect our rescues”.