Fort Smith firefighters trading in their axes and fire hoses for flippers and snorkels Tuesday (Aug. 20).
15 firemen plunging into the pool water at Creekmore Park as part of a training exercise on how to work with dive teams in emergency situations.
“We start off with a swim test, 200 meters without gear 200 meters with gear,” explained Captain Chris Taylor. “Then it’s a 10-minute tread. Then the divers get in the deep pool and we do full face mask removal and purge.”
The drills were aimed to teach the firemen how to recover evidence and even bodies out of the water, explained Battalion Chief Tery Graves.
“We don’t just fight fires or go on EMS calls,” Graves said. “We extricate people out of cars, we have a swift water rescue team, we have a dive team, we have a bomb squad.”
Graves explained that specialized training is crucial for teams to be able to respond to any emergency situation.
“It’s very, very important,” Graves said. “It`s what we`re here for. We are the fire department and if you need help and as long as no one has a gun or a knife, you can call the fire department and we can come help you out.”
When crews are in their full wet suits, Graves said the equipment weighs close to 60 pounds. However, once the firefighters get in the water, they can push a button which makes them buoyant and easier to work with, Graves said.
“We wear a weight belt that will allow us to sink to the bottom and recover what we need to,” Graves explained.
Firefighters said they rely on these types of specialized training a handful of times every year.
All firefighters who took part in the training now have the qualifications they need to work with the dive team.