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Lethbridge Fire and EMS refresh river rescue training ahead of summer

With summer nearing, many will be finding ways to beat the heat, including taking a float down the Oldman River, and that has Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services (LFES) refreshing their water skills. With summer nearing, many will be finding ways to beat the heat, including taking a float down the Oldman River, and that has Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services (LFES) refreshing their water skills.
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LETHBRIDGE -

With summer nearing, many will be finding ways to beat the heat, including taking a float down the Oldman River, and that has Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services (LFES) refreshing their water skills.

"We've already done three boat calls so far this year and we aren't even into the warm months of the summer yet," said Charles Schoening, water rescue co-team lead with LFES.

On Tuesday, members of the water rescue team spent the day practising on the river and surveying the water to find any potential hazards before people begin to float.

"If they're responsive, we have different ways to get them out ... most of the time, it's just grab and haul them into the boat, get them out and go from there," said Tim Kinahan, a member of the water rescue team.

"That's all we've been doing so far, and then just running up and down the river in the river boat."

LFES says wearing a life jacket, proper footwear, knowing how to swim, staying sober and having a float plan in place can save lives.

"This is a fairly shallow river for the most part, so in most places, if you float for a while, you can find a place where you can stand up and walk out of the river," Schoening said.

"Be very careful where you place your feet so that you don't get your feet caught in any rocks or debris because you can get trapped that way."

The lower-than-normal water levels can cause more challenges but Schoening says it's not all bad.

"It's more realistic (that) when we'll be doing a rescue is in those July and August months when the water levels are starting to drop," he said.

"So, the fact that it's low right now is scary from a drought perspective but it's very good for us to be practising in these more realistic conditions."

Jillian Johnston, aquatics manager at YMCA Lethbridge, encourages people to take swimming lessons before venturing out and, if they do fall into the water, to stay calm.

"Also making sure we're looking for that point of safety, staying calm and then making a swim," Johnston said.

"If you start to become tired, flip onto your back to take a relaxing break and then start swimming again.

"We have lots of swimming lesson options at the YMCA, right from young children all the way up to seniors."

Lethbridge Fire and EMS provided these tips for staying safe:

  • Have personal floatation devices (PFDs or life jackets) for each person floating in the river;
  • Inspect PFDs to make sure they hold air. This should be done at home;
  • Have a float plan. This should consist of where you plan to enter the river, where you will get out, how long the journey should take and who is with you. Leave this information with family or friends;
  • Talk about your group's swimming abilities;
  • Have footwear in case you need to exit the river prematurely;
  • No alcohol or drugs on the river. They impair your ability to swim and possibly fight the current, should you need to;
  • Have a cell phone in a waterproof bag to keep it dry in case you need to call 911; and
  • Avoid the weir and recognize the warning devices. Portage around the weir by following the signs before it.   

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