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Thursday, October 4, 2012 - 2:05am

Rescuers Train For Whitewater Crises

When a new whitewater rapids course opens in Columbus next year, the city’s fire and emergency services department could face a whole new type of rescue. So they’re spending money and time now to be ready.

While rescues in the Chattahoochee River are nothing new to the department, they typically have been via boat or deep-water diving operations.

“The environment has changed a little bit,” said fire department division Chief Ricky Shores. “The currents are different and the river’s changed, so we have to change our rescue techniques to match those changes.”

Now emergency responders have to be ready for the shallow, fast-moving rapids in a 2.5 mile stretch around downtown, which has meant new training and new equipment for the department, Shores said.

“We know they’ll take some spills when the rafters go through,” he said. “The biggest concern for us is probably going to be the general public, because they’ve got more access to the water now where they didn’t in the past. So there will be instances where people will get in the water without a floatation device and they’ll get in trouble, and we’ll have to go get them.”

The department recently bought about $30,000 dollars in gear with SPLOST funds, including dry suits, special life jackets and boots. They’ve also purchased Zodiac boats that can stand up to rock impacts and the punishing water.

Shores said the water-rescue team is the same one that saves people in high-rise buildings downtown or in confined spaces because of some crossover skills.