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Within the Spokane Valley Fire Department service area, there are occasional emergencies that exceed the skills and tools that are normally reserved for firefighting, medical emergencies and rescues. When this occurs, the Special Operations Team is deployed. The team consists of 27 personnel (nine per shift) with advanced, technician-level training to quickly respond to save lives.
The Special Operations team performs technical rescues including confined space rescue, high/low angle rescue and trench rescue. This team can deploy an engine, a 105’ ladder, a medium rescue unit, and/or a technical rescue response unit that contains specialized shoring and rescue materials.
Some examples where the team would be deployed include:
- Climber stuck on a cliff or rock out-cropping
- Injured worker at the top of a water tower
- Sewer installer entrapped in a collapsed dirt trench
- Child stuck in a pit
- Injured teenager on an icy sledding hill
While these types of emergencies occur infrequently, it is important that our firefighters can complete these complex rescues in a safe, efficient manner.
Three SVFD engines are equipped to respond to an “extrication” scene when one or more people are trapped. Most often this occurs when drivers and passengers become trapped inside vehicles at the scene of a motor vehicle collision. Occasionally, workers become trapped by industrial equipment.
Extrication equipment – often called “the jaws of life” – is actually a set of tools including spreaders, cutters, rams and other specialized equipment. The tools are extremely powerful. Every firefighter receives training in the use of this equipment and crew members who work on the engines carrying the extrication equipment receive advanced training. Advances in vehicle design including new steel alloys, pressurized gas airbag systems and others, cause the Department to regularly update training and equipment.
SWIFT WATER RESCUE
The Spokane River winds through the heart of our service area, starting at the Washington/Idaho state line and continuing to the City of Spokane border. To some the river serves as a peaceful backdrop while on the Centennial Trail, to others it is a recreational retreat to enjoy fishing, swimming and rafting.
Unfortunately, many fail to respect the power and hidden dangers of the Spokane River. They use rafts designed for swimming pools, don’t wear personal flotation devices (PFD’s) or consume too much alcohol. Some get in trouble and need to be rescued. In one incident, a recreational rafter became entangled in the supports of the Barker Bridge and had to be hoisted up through the decking by our technical rescue team. The rafter was not wearing a PFD.
Spokane Valley Fire Department’s Special Operations team is trained and equipped to respond to Swift Water Rescues on the Spokane River and on Liberty Lake, the two main bodies of water in our service area. The team is equipped with four kayaks, a cataraft and additional safety equipment to handle the sometimes frigid water temperatures. The special operations team members are trained to conduct a search with kayaks, swim out to a victim and make a contact rescue, as well as building rope systems to free water craft from rocks or other debris in the river. They have the ability to accomplish these rescues anytime of the year, regardless of the weather.
Through the process of developing the SWR program, we have taken a regional approach to deliver the service. Responding to water rescues with other first responding agencies allows us to put more responders on scene, increasing the safety level for rescuers as well as the chances of a successful rescue. Nationwide, statistics show that 30% of the deaths in swift water incidents are rescuers, and working with other experienced agencies will help keep us from becoming part of these statistics. The Spokane City Fire Department has had a SWR team for over 12 years; they provided us with training support and advice when we launched our SWR Team in 2010. Assisting other agencies also gives us more exposure to actual incidents which will increase our effectiveness.
While the Spokane Valley Fire Department has a trained team to rescue you on the water, we would prefer not to! The single biggest thing you can do to be safe on the water is to wear a PFD that is the correct size and insist all of those in your group are doing the same. Please be safe on the water by always wearing a PFD!
While there are numerous bodies of water within the SVFD boundaries that freeze in the winter, our primary risk for ice rescue incidents is Liberty Lake. Because of the potential for individuals to fall through weak ice, we conduct annual ice rescue training with our firefighters on Liberty Lake — often in January.
Crews stationed in our Liberty Lake, Greenacres, Sullivan and Otis Orchards stations along with our Special Operations team typically respond to ice rescue incidents. Each crew carries ice rescue gear on their fire apparatus from November through March. Firefighters performing an ice rescue wear dry suits for their protection and are typically tethered to rescuers on the shore by a rope. SVFD has a rescue sled and kayaks that can be deployed to assist with the rescue when the ice is broken.
Although our primary focus for ice rescue is people, crews may attempt an animal rescue if the operation can be done safely.