Featuring: Academics Plus, Atkins, Bigelow, Central Arkansas Christian, Clinton, Concord, Conway, Conway Christian, Conway St. Joseph, Danville, Dardanelle, Dover, Greenbrier, Guy Perkins, Heber Springs, Hector, Maumelle, Mayflower, Morrilton, Mount Vernon-Enola, Nemo Vista, Perryville, Pottsville, Quitman, Russellville, Sacred Heart, Shirley, South Side Bee Branch, Two Rivers, Vilonia, Western Yell County, West Side Greers Ferry, Wonderview.READ ONLINE
Storms curtail Arkansas Fire Boat School trainingOriginally Published June 6, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated June 5, 2013 at 11:30 a.m.
Firemen from Lake Hamilton, South Fork Center in Montgomery County and North Little Rock fire departments work at the scene of a mock accident with a ski boat and a personal watercraft during the Arkansas Fire Boat School on DeGray Lake. One of the boats, at top, carries AGFC personnel who are evaluating the drill and the participants.
CADDO VALLEY A storm Saturday morning that swept across DeGray Lake and brought rains and lightning forced officials to shut down the annual Arkansas Fire Boat School.
“This is the first time in 10 years we have had bad weather,” said Don McBride, Fire boss with the Arkansas Forestry Commission.
“We are not worried about the rain — we go on working in the rain all the time — it is lightning that makes us shut down operations,” he said.
Training was suspended at 11 a.m. because of lightning, resumed about 1 p.m. after lunch and ended at 3 p.m. because of the storm.
More than 300 firefighters and 40 fire boats from 36 fire departments and rescue squads across Arkansas, as well as three from the Dallas area, took part in the busy morning of rescues and firefighting scenarios on DeGray Lake in Hot Spring and Clark counties. Ten fire departments from the Tri-Lakes Edition coverage area took part in the training.
In addition, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, stationed in Mobile, Ala., operated with the school, which allowed crews to train by loading mock-injured patients into rescue baskets for evacuation.
Several Coast Guard patrol boats and crews from Memphis also participated.
The forestry commission started the Arkansas Fire Boat School in 2004.
“There are a lot of areas in Arkansas along lakes and rivers where fire equipment cannot go,” McBride said. “The roads into the homes and woods are often too rough and crooked for fire equipment and there will be easier access from the water.”
The forestry agency has helped rural fire departments around the state obtain fire boats ranging from 16- to 47-feet long, using federal grants and the Federal Excess Property in Rural Areas Program.
Bill Barnes, chief of the Joplin Fire Department on Lake Ouachita and chairman of the Arkansas Fire Boat Committee, said the drill is the nation’s largest water-rescue training event.
“The different fire departments, many of them made up of unpaid volunteers, need to train together with other departments and other agencies like the U.S. Coast Guard, so we could work together when something bad happens.”
One training session was designed to aid flooded neighborhoods. One firefighter pointed out that the scenario mimicked the flooding in Scott County where an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife officer and a county sheriff were swept away Friday as they tried to rescue two Y City women, who also drowned.
The fire boat committee, which helped plan the exercise, refers to the training session as a team-building challenge.
“All boats will have to pool their limited resources to achieve a common goal,” according to the training-overview instructions. “There are victims to evacuate, open fires to extinguish, LP gas leaks and possible search-and-rescue challenges. Forced entry will be made on some structures.”
Rescue teams had to work around bubbling gas tanks in the water that also were near live electrical wires. Personnel acting as stranded residents had to be rescued from rooftops, and some roofs had to be opened to retrieve people. One woman was taken by a fire crew from a floating tree.
Some fire crews were able to put their new skills to use faster than they had planned.
During the training, a Montgomery County boat crew left early to deal with flooding near Mount Ida. Kenn Greene of Mount Ida contacted the Arkansas Fire Boats Facebook page.
“Sorry we had to leave early,” he said in a posting. “We need to get back; our communities are our top priority. The new folks we brought still learned a bunch.”
The most complex scenario crews worked on Saturday was the re-enactment of an incident involving a personal watercraft with two riders and a ski boat with five on board. Both craft veered north to avoid colliding and ran aground. Several passengers were thrown ashore; others went into the water and one died.
The crews were dispatched to the scene. Several of the “injured” were children. The first crew to arrive, from Lake Hamilton, evaluated the scene and called for both air and ground evacuation. Neck collars and backboards were used to secure patients before the trip to a loading zone to meet with the helicopter and ambulances.
While the boat crews take care of patients, their work is evaluated by teams from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Arkansas Fire Training Academy.
Rachel Nix, director of the Arkansas Fire Training Academy, said school officials work with the fire boat committee to design the drills.
“We then bring in instructors to teach the proper procedures for the scene,” she said.
The training sessions are dispatched and guided on shore by the communications center. In years past, the command post was headed by Lake Hamilton Fire Department Chief Matt Simpson. He died from cancer earlier this year at age 47. This year’s fire boat school program was dedicated to Simpson for his work.
This was the 10th anniversary of the fire boat school, and Barnes said although the program has grown, some things have not changed.
What hasn’t changed is “the absolute dedication of the volunteer firefighters and their departments,” he said. “We have come from just four boats that first year to 47 who signed up this year. During that time, some 60 boats have been issued to fire departments.
“Throughout the time we have had the same spirit of cooperation between the fire departments, state agencies and 15 corporate sponsors,” Barnes said.
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or email@example.com.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.