Firefighters and pilots get ‘underwater egress’ training

Callie Hermanson
Lakeside Leader

Slave Lake Forest Area wildland firefighters and pilots from Remote Helicopters in Slave Lake participated in an underwater egress training course on March 22 and 23.

There were 11 people from Remote Helicopters and 14 were Alberta Agriculture and Forestry wildland firefighters.

The course was taught by Mike Rarog of Arctic Response Canada Ltd. at the Northern Lights Aquatic Centre.

“Safety of our wildland firefighters is top priority,” says Leah Lovequist the Wildfire Information Officer for Slave Lake Forest Area with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry in Slave Lake.

Lovequist says wildland firefighters in the Slave Lake Forest Area have been taking the underwater egress training course for over 10 years. The training is meant to ensure wildland firefighters will be able to instinctively react in the event of an aircraft emergency.

Lovequist says this is one of many of the safety training courses Alberta Agriculture and Forestry has in place for working with aircraft during wildland firefighting operations. She says this is done to ensure the training was realistic to an aircraft incident.

Lovequist says wildland firefighters and pilots from Remote Helicopters even had to wear their personal protective equipment (flight suits for pilots, Nomex wildland firefighting uniforms and some wore boots) during the underwater egress training.

Brandon Boyd, a five-year wildland firefighter, says that this was his second time doing the training. He explains that instructors from Arctic Response simulated an incident, by making the participants tired and then flipped them upside down in the water inside a helicopter simulator.

“Your clothes get pretty heavy, and everything is disoriented when you are upside down,” says Boyd. You just have to remember that everything is the same; “you are just upside down.”

Boyd says instructors had them do scenarios to help an ‘unconscious’ partner get out of the aircraft by undoing their seat belts and dragging them out. If you cannot get your partner’s seatbelt off, he says, most helicopters are equipped with seatbelt cutters.

Boyd says a helicopter forest firefighter does not have to obtain a certain level of swimming lessons.

“I am not a great swimmer so I was nervous at first,” he says. “but you get a lot of help and support from others firefighters, pilots and the instructors during the course.” He adds the course is not only fun and interesting, but great to learn the possibilities of what could occur in a controlled environment, rather than going into an accident blind.

Slave Lake Forest Area Wildland Firefighter Rena Dehne, Jeremy Lambert participating in the underwater egress training course on March 22.

Rodney Drake , Dillon Friesen, Shawn Gordon and Jeremy Lambert participating in the underwater egress training course on March 22.

Colin Whitworth, Brett Hauber, Nicolas Bouvier, Sam Bastien, Freddy Brunner, Kevin Hickling, Robert Gall, Jarred Bernard and Instructor Mike Rarog participating in the underwater egress training course on March 23.

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