Weber team takes refresher course on navigating swift water

May 22 2011 - 6:05am

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(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) Weber County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team member Tim Speicher hangs on to a rope as he participates in an exercise during a swift water rescue class Saturday along the Weber River.
(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) Zach Byars, a veteran instructor with Sierra Rescue, based in Taylorsville, Califl, taught the course. Here, he dives into the cold and muddy water during a swift water rescue class Saturday on the Weber River near Henefer.
(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) Weber County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team member Arthur Pluim leads a group into the fast-moving Weber River during a drill to teach them how to wade though heavy currents as part of a swift water rescue class Saturday near Henefer.
(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) Instructor Zach Byars draws a diagram of a river feature during a swift water rescue class Saturday on the Weber River near Henefer.
(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) Weber County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue team member Tim Speicher listens to the instructor during a swift water rescue class Saturday on the Weber River near Henefer.
(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) Weber County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team member Tim Speicher hangs on to a rope as he participates in an exercise during a swift water rescue class Saturday along the Weber River.
(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) Zach Byars, a veteran instructor with Sierra Rescue, based in Taylorsville, Califl, taught the course. Here, he dives into the cold and muddy water during a swift water rescue class Saturday on the Weber River near Henefer.
(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) Weber County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team member Arthur Pluim leads a group into the fast-moving Weber River during a drill to teach them how to wade though heavy currents as part of a swift water rescue class Saturday near Henefer.
(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) Instructor Zach Byars draws a diagram of a river feature during a swift water rescue class Saturday on the Weber River near Henefer.
(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) Weber County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue team member Tim Speicher listens to the instructor during a swift water rescue class Saturday on the Weber River near Henefer.

HENEFER -- Arthur Pluim stood on the banks of the swollen Weber River, barking out commands to a hapless swimmer floating in the swift current like a human pebble Saturday afternoon.

"Swimmer, eyes on me," Pluim yelled over the rush of the murky brown water as the man sailed past. "Grab the rope."

Pluim, a member of Weber County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue, was among eight people who practiced tossing 75 feet of line from small, brightly colored nylon bags into the river as part of a two-day, swift water rescue certification course sponsored by Weber State University's Outdoor Program.

The course ends today.

Those who took the course include Weber County search and rescue members, river guides and Weber State employees. The course was taught by Zach Byars, a veteran instructor with Sierra Rescue, based in Taylorsvile, Calif.

Byars said his goal was to make participants proficient in a variety of rescue techniques, including the use of nylon throw bags and inflatable rafts.

Byars also taught how to overcome obstacles that can impede rescues, like large rocks and tree branches, as well as how to communicate with hand signals and whistles.

He also provided participants an overview of hydrology to help them understand river currents.

Pluim, who has received swift river training before, said the refresher course is invaluable, particularly because the Weber River is running high due to recent heavy rainfall and snowmelt.

"A lot of rescues happen when the Weber is high," he said.

Course members took turns Saturday playing rescuer and rescuee.

During one exercise, participants -- wearing dry suits, helmets and other safety gear -- jumped into the 45-degree water, then swam furiously to shore to experience the velocity of the current.

Shaun Palm, a member of the Weber County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue, said one of the aspects of the course that he enjoyed was learning how to "self rescue" so he wouldn't get into trouble on the river.

Throughout the training, Byars alternated between coach and cheerleader.

"Try not to fight the current," he said in a pep talk before one of the exercises. "Exert energy to get out of there."

James Provence, an employee with Weber State's Outdoor Recreation Program who helped organize the course, said the skills rescuers learned are valuable in helping them deal with river emergencies.

"You've got to be prepared."

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