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Five fire districts, Sauk-Suiattle Tribe collaborate on river rescue training

DARRINGTON — About the same time a woman was being rescued on Pilchuck River near Lake Stevens by the Snohomish County Technical Water Rescue Team, Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue, Fire District 4 and the Sheriff’s office helicopter SNOHAWK 10, another team of firefighters and emergency medical technicians were busy getting trained for the same kind of thing on the Sauk River south of Darrington.

Along with Darrington Fire District 24 and the Sauk-Suiattle fire and police, fire fighters from Oso, Arlington Heights, Silvana and Granite Falls fire districts were being trained in fast water river rescue, under the direction of Randy Dobbins, of Arlington Heights Fire District 21.

Oso Fire District 25 had just rescued three young women from Seattle who got stuck in a pile of log debris in the Stillaguamish River near Oso the week before, Dobbins said.

The training from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday, May 31, helped the firefighters learn to use a variety of equipment such as ropes and inflatables. They were debating whether there would be time to do a raft rescue, as well, at about noon after three hours on the river already.

“I don’t think we’ll be doing a boat rescue today,” Dobbins said.

District 21 shares a Hovercraft purchased with a grant from the Stillaguamish Tribe with the other districts as needed, Dobbins said.

Wearing dry suits provided by the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, a team of about 15 firefighters took turns jumping into the frigid Sauk River about 7 miles south of Darrington to give their fellow firefighters a chance to practice rescuing them with ropes. They learned techniques for giving one another support and carrying a person by holding together in a circle in the fast moving water. They also practiced stretching a rope across the river to rescue someone stranded mid way.

Sauk-Suiattle Police Chief Owen Couch said the project is a perfect example of collaboration among the public safety teams.

“We had the equipment, but not the personnel,” Couch said.

The chief of Darrington Fire District 24, Dennis Fenstermaker agreed.

“When the sun comes out, you can count on people heading to the river,” Fenstermaker noted.

“I would estimate about two deaths per year on average in each river,” Fenstermaker said.

Meanwhile down below at Pilchuck River, a group of eight people floating down the slower moving river didn’t notice a missing friend until they reached their exit point. Their friend was located at 5:40 p.m. on the river bank and was treated by medical personnel and released at the scene.

She was not in possession of a lifejacket, according to LT Rodney Rochon, Marine Service Unit of Special Operations Division at the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

The victim told rescuers she had fallen from her tube as she approached a log jam. She was sucked under the jam and popped out in a pool on the opposite side. She climbed to shore where she collapsed.

The close call should serve as a reminder to all that river trips need to be scouted first and proper safety equipment such as a lifejacket and whistle are necessary for personal safety, Rochon reported.

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