ALPENA–Members of the Air National Guard fought against flood-like waters Thursday at the mouth of Fourmile Dam on the Thunder Bay River.
Red-clad trainees from Ohio swam fiercely across thundering waters, their bodies forced downstream as they battled to reach the far side of a raging current.
Packed together like buffalo, they plowed upstream against the insistent wall of water, one hard-won step at a time, groaning with the effort.
Swift water rescue training was provided Thursday morning to the 178th Fire and Emergency Services out of Ohio, training this week at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center.
With the help of Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, who agreed to temporarily increase the flow of water at the foot of the dam to simulate a dangerous flooding situation, day-job firefighters added to their National Guard know-how by learning what to do when called on to save lives that water is threatening to sweep away.
The Air National Guard 178th Wing, out of Springfield, Ohio, has been training at the CRTC since Sunday, preparing their volunteer members to pick up, head out, and save lives whenever duty calls. The wing conducts regular training at the CRTC, with many of its members having visited the area for decades.
“Alpena is a nice, clean, friendly town,” said unit leader Sgt. Matthew Keck, who noted new development downtown in recent years that has made the city an increasingly pleasant place to visit. The trainees are given time in the evenings to relax and enjoy Alpena, Keck said.
Thursday morning’s training prepared the firefighter unit of the 178th to be deployed to rapid water scenarios anywhere around the country. The team’s skills might be employed, for example, in the aftermath of a hurricane, which can turn an ordinary neighborhood into a treacherous waterway. Varied surfaces, an obstruction, even a sewer drain can cause a deadly current in such situations, Keck explained.
Citizen soldiers at Thursday’s rapid water training practiced accuracy with throw bags, which can keep a victim afloat, and worked with two-point boat tethers, learning to guide a boat to a victim using ropes held on shore. They learned to create a zipline across a river, dangling loops of wire which a victim could grab to be zipped to safety.
Out of the water, the guardsmen worked the rest of the week on the technical rescue training disciplines of high-angle rope, confined space, structural collapse, and trench rescue.
Swift water rescue training is new to the Air National Guard fire protection arm. Currently, the 178th is the only unit in the Guard adding the training to their repertoire, and the Alpena exercises will set the example for the training for the entire Air National Guard, according to Senior Master Sgt. Jeremy Wohlford, Alpena CRTC fire chief.
The CRTC, which already offers urban search and rescue training, is the perfect site for training water rescue teams, Wohlford said, with a rich variety of water types and flood scenario capabilities available.
“One of the primary missions of the Air National Guard is domestic operations, which supports communities in situations of flooding and other natural disasters,” he said. “Swift water rescue training is a critical skill to have during these deadly natural disasters. It would be awesome to be the primary location for that type of training for the Air National Guard. We are trying to make that happen.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, email@example.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.