Ascension firefighters train for water rescues

GONZALES, LA (WAFB) - Firefighters are diving into unfamiliar territory to learn techniques that could help save lives during a hurricane. The class is part of a federal grant that supplies equipment and training.

The water in the manmade lake at Cabela's is calm but the training on the surface is intense.

Daniel Rials and his fellow firefighters from across Ascension Parish are diving into a new world of search and rescue.

"We're trying to train as close to the real world as possible," Rials said.

This one involves aluminum and inflatable boats that are already part of their arsenal and instructor, Paul Fraser, who understands how firefighters think.

"Firefighters are a breed of their own. Anyone who is willing to run into a fire when everyone else is running out that tells you a little about the character these guys have," Fraser said.

One of their lessons involves a long rope and a heavy bag which would be used during rescues in high water.

Prairieville Fire Chief, Mark Stewart, said the goal is to retrieve the subject without leaving the vessel.

"If people are in the water that's one of our options is to throw the bag out to the people, have them throw the bag out to the people, have them grab the bag and we can retrieve and pull them into the bank, shore, or in this case a boat," Stewart said.

The firefighters are given lifelike scenarios in which they might be called to respond.

"Say a Katrina-type event, structural collapse where you actually have houses moved from their foundations, debris, cars, vehicles turned over, road signs," Rials said.

Chief Stewart said the widespread flooding that came with Hurricane Isaac last summer gave first responders a clear picture of the potential dangers that exist closer to home.

"Storm surge, the heavy rains, the winds as they turn around and are pushing in out of the south or southeast inundates potentially a lot of Ascension Parish," Stewart said.

"The quick rise and quick fall, cars can get trapped that's why quick deployment teams like this come to service," Rials said.

They've got the tools, now they're sharpening their skills so they'll be ready to respond.

The two day course ends on Tuesday with rapid water training on the Pearl River.

All firefighters who complete the class will get a special certification.

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