Capt. Jayme Johns, center, head of the Capital City Fire/Rescue’s water rescue team, briefs a group of CCFR personnel and Coast Guardsmen as they prepare to practice swiftwater rescues in the Mendenhall River on as National Boating Safety Week wraps up May 27, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Capt. Jayme Johns, center, head of the Capital City Fire/Rescue’s water rescue team, briefs a group of CCFR personnel and Coast Guardsmen as they prepare to practice swiftwater rescues in the Mendenhall River on as National Boating Safety Week wraps up May 27, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

‘Current’ events: Responders rehearse river rescue

“When you’re in the river, you’re at the mercy of the water.”

As National Boating Safety Week comes to an end, the Coast Guard and Capital City Fire/Rescue came together Thursday for a first-of-its-kind joint training on the Mendenhall River.

Capt. Jayme Johns, head of the CCFR’s water rescue team, led the exercise as the members of the Coast Guard’s boating safety group took the opportunity to be the victims, rather than rescuers, in swiftwater rescue, one of CCFR’s specialties.

“It’s a chance to float the river and work with CCFR,” said Mike Folkerts, boating safety specialist for Coast Guard District 17, in an interview. “(The Coast Guardsmen) get a chance to experience being rescued.”

Capt. Jayme Johns, head of the Capital City Fire/Rescue’s water rescue team, briefs a group of CCFR personnel and Coast Guardsmen as they prepare to practice swiftwater rescues in the Mendenhall River on as National Boating Safety Week wraps up May 27, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Capt. Jayme Johns, head of the Capital City Fire/Rescue’s water rescue team, briefs a group of CCFR personnel and Coast Guardsmen as they prepare to practice swiftwater rescues in the Mendenhall River on as National Boating Safety Week wraps up May 27, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Knowing how victims will act is a key part to being an effective rescuer, Folkerts said. And in this case, knowing was best achieved by suiting up and getting chucked in the brisk meltwater of the Mendenhall.

[Police stepping up presence for Memorial Day weekend]

“When you’re in the river, you’re at the mercy of the water,” Johns said as he briefed the participants. “You’re never gonna win against the water.”

Entrapments, exposure, and the crushing force of hundreds of pounds of fast-moving water can catch unwary boaters, swimmers or rescuers, trapping them against logs or other debris where the remorseless current makes independent recovery extremely difficult, Johns said.

Capital City Fire/Rescue personnel and Coast Guardsmen practice swiftwater rescues in the Mendenhall River on as National Boating Safety Week wraps up on May 27, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Capital City Fire/Rescue personnel and Coast Guardsmen practice swiftwater rescues in the Mendenhall River on as National Boating Safety Week wraps up on May 27, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

“This might be the first time I’ve worked with them,” Folkerts said of CCFR’s water rescue team. “The opportunity to practice being victims is important to understand rescuing them.”

The genesis of the training team-up was when Folkerts contacted Assistant Chief Travis Mead about the possibility.

“Any time we work with another agency, especially a government agency, is a huge advantage,” Mead said in an interview. “It helps us. It keeps us sharp on our skills and we like getting to train with the Coast Guard.”

CCFR has its own rescue boats staged at Stations 1 and 3, Mead said. Every year, CCFR gets calls requiring water rescues, many of them on Mendenhall Lake or on the river. Other calls have gone to islands in the wetlands, where rapid flood tides have stranded unwary walkers.

Chief Petty Officer Jeff Deronde floats downstream, simulating a victim in the water, as Capital City Fire/Rescue personnel and Coast Guardsmen practice swiftwater rescues in the Mendenhall River on as National Boating Safety Week wraps up on May 27, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Chief Petty Officer Jeff Deronde floats downstream, simulating a victim in the water, as Capital City Fire/Rescue personnel and Coast Guardsmen practice swiftwater rescues in the Mendenhall River on as National Boating Safety Week wraps up on May 27, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

“We can get a boat in the water in about fifteen minutes if everything lines up right,” Mead said. “There’s a lot of water around Juneau.”

The icy cold of the glacier’s meltwater poses its own dangers, Mead said, especially for those not wearing personal flotation devices. The rate of rescues, especially of paddleboards, has gone up in recent years, Mead said.

“If you’re in the glacier-fed water, people don’t realize how cold it is,” Mead said. “If you fall off your paddleboard, it can be an emergency.”

As National Boating Safety Week runs into Memorial Day weekend, Folkerts emphasized boating safety should be a priority.

“Check your flares and sound devices and wear a (personal flotation device),” Mead said.

Capt. Jayme Johns, left, head of the Capital City Fire/Rescue’s water rescue team, briefs a group of CCFR personnel and Coast Guardsmen as they prepare to practice swiftwater rescues in the Mendenhall River on as National Boating Safety Week wraps up May 27, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Capt. Jayme Johns, left, head of the Capital City Fire/Rescue’s water rescue team, briefs a group of CCFR personnel and Coast Guardsmen as they prepare to practice swiftwater rescues in the Mendenhall River on as National Boating Safety Week wraps up May 27, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of June 26

Here’s what to expect this week.

Rockets’ red glare illuminates the night sky and spectators during the City and Borough of Juneau’s fireworks display on July 3, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Rockets’ red glare illuminates the night sky and spectators during the City and Borough of Juneau’s fireworks display on July 3, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
What you need to know for this fourth of July

Check out the scheduled events here.

Larisa Bishop Boros
This photo available under a Creative Commons license shows a male silver-haired bat captured in Ozark National Scenic Riverways in 2010. A bat found in Douglas tested positive for rabies, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced.
Bat found in Douglas tests positive for rabies

No report of rabies exposure to people, according to Department of Fish and Game.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Friday, July 1, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Road to Majority conference Friday, June 17, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. A rally planned to include Trump is scheduled to happen in Anchorage on July 9.  (AP Photo / Mark Humphrey File)
Trump to rally for Palin, Dunleavy, Tshibaka in Anchorage

Former President Donald Trump plans to attend a rally in Alaska next week.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Thursday, June 30, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Courtesy Photo / Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy 
Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Tuesday signed the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Gov. Dunleavy signs budget

PFD of about $3,200, $400 million in vetoes to Legislature-approved items among declared highlights

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 29, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The Alaska Department of Health And Social Services building in Juneau has no visible signs indicating the department is splitting into two agencies as of Friday. Top officials at the department said many of the changes, both physical and in services, are likely weeks and in some cases months away. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Little sign of big change for DHSS

No commissioner at new department, other Dept. of Health and Social Services changes may take months

Most Read