Time is critical during a crisis. Decisions can, and often do, determine the outcome in many emergencies. Recognizing the importance of teamwork and communication, the district and the Winona, Minn., Fire Department participated in a joint rescue training event along the banks of the Mississippi River March 28.
Originally designed as ice recovery training, Dan Cottrell, channels and harbors, said the mild spring weather changed the training focus of ice recovery to cold water rescue. Regardless of the water conditions, the agencies were focused on learning from each other and learning how the Corps’ airboat can be used to save lives.
Winona Fire Department Capt. Curt Bittle said the training was a great opportunity for both the fire department and the Corps to work together. “It was something that we should have done years ago,” he said. “Just to physically get guys in the airboats and run though the scenario was great training.” The scenario included a person floating in the water, far away from the shore, and in an area surrounded by trees.
Bittle said there are some locations along the river that would take the fire department more than 30 minutes to get to. With the assistance of the Corps’ airboat, the time could be reduced by as much as 10 to 15 minutes, or more.
With a focus on saving lives, Brandon Olson, channels and harbors, said this was the first year the two agencies trained together for any type of water rescue mission, but they plan on continuing the new partnership in upcoming years. “It’s kind of a work in progress,” he said, adding that the ability to trust and understand each other during a crisis is important.
Olson said, the training also taught him how the fire department responds to emergencies. Seeing what they do and what type of equipment they have and how they use it is great, he said. “This type of training definitely builds confidence.”
Bittle said the training is all about creating partnerships. Covering areas along the Mississippi River from Lock and Dam 5A in Fountain City, Wis., to Lock and Dam 6 in Trempealeau, Wis., the Winona Fire Department lacks the funds to purchase airboats, but they make up for it by building relationships. “I think it’s really important for all of these agencies to do a little networking and be able to contact people to get assets to rescues or to whatever events that we have,” he said. “In this day and age, we just have to.”
Looking toward the future, Olson and Bittle both said they look forward to continuing to work and train together. Bittle said he hopes they can line up ice rescue training next year and work a lot more closely with the Corps in the future. “To have the Corps behind us and working with us,” he said. “What an asset.”