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.”
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.