Whether dealing with rising waters from flash floods or the dangers of whitewater rescue, an Atlanta area police department is ready. In 2009, the town of Sandy Springs faced a high river run and flooding in some areas. As a result, in 2010 a rescue boat was purchased and a swift water rescue team was formed.
The city, which is located just north of Atlanta, was formed in late 2005 and is bordered on one side by a 20-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River. The river is popular with kayakers, whitewater paddlers, and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts.
In 2006, Sandy Springs created a police department, which now has about 150 officers and few vacancies. Within the ranks are a small handful of officers who have been trained and certified in swift water rescue. Currently, there are only three members on the team, but there is room to hire additional officers.
sergeant. Andrew Rausch, who heads the department cycling squad, is one of the original members of Team Swiftwater and now commands the small unit. Along the way, he took a break for a few years while juggling other missions, but then found his way back to the water.
Last year he and Detective Clinton Werner were trained and certified as a base living Water technicians. Their classroom for the week-long course was the Chattahoochee River.
“He trains us on a lot of things and teaches us various techniques for rescuing people on the Chattahoochee. He teaches us the basic skills of swimming with a PFD, without it. It teaches us specifically about the Chattahoochee River and the obstacles that you might come across,” says Rausch.
They learned about boat handling, bag rescue and how team members can use rescue techniques, eddy jumps, swimming in rapids, etc. They should be prepared as the police are likely to be the first to arrive at the scene of a water rescue.
“Sometimes we can get places faster than firefighters, it’s just a matter of training. Sometimes that call goes out and we’re just around the corner. We need to be able to react quickly to these scenarios and have some type of expertise in order to be the first responders in these types of situations,” says Rausch.
Although the police department team is separate from the fire department swift water rescue team, the two teams train together frequently and are prepared to work side by side during rescues.
“We answer the same calls anyway, someone floating down the river who got lost, or an overturned boat, or whatever. If we end up being there at the same time, we can mix up our teams and put some of our members with their members and in whatever ship they need to deploy,” Rausch explains.
Each member of the police department’s whitewater team wears a PFD, their individual throw bags, a wetsuit and Rausche says they also try to give each member a drysuit. He says their kit is supplemented with things like a helmet, gloves, boots and anything else they might need in a water rescue scenario.
Beyond the individual equipment and the capabilities of the officers, the team also puts several craft into service. The workhorse of the fleet is a rock-proof flat-bottomed boat that is jet-propelled and can board the plane with four rescuers and all their gear.
The team can also deploy an inflatable rescue boat which they call the banana, or yellow, boat.
“It’s a rapid deployment device that we can inflate quite quickly. We can put two lifeguards in there and get someone up onto the platform quite easily if they get stuck somewhere our boat can’t get to,” he explains.
The fleet of watercraft is supplemented by two kayaks, although they are not intended for deployment in swift water rescues. They are, however, used at community relations events where officers can kayak with local groups. However, they could still be used to access a flooded area in addition to other boats.
“One of the things we always tell people when we give them advice on the river and safety precautions is don’t underestimate the river,” says Rausch. “Don’t underestimate its throughput and speed. So that’s the main advice I can give, and just be prepared with your PFD. »
Most patrollers are not trained in swift water rescue and many are not formally trained. trained in standard water rescue. But a time will come when many will face such situations.
“They have to use their judgment in reference to water rescues and they have to weigh the risk versus the reward of trying to save someone there,” Rausch explains.
If water rescue is something the patroller cannot safely perform, Rausch says the best course of action is to keep an eye out for the victim and wait for a whitewater team to arrive. they are firefighters or police officers.
With only 150 officers, Sandy Springs might be considered a small department by many. However, being part of a small, tight-knit team gives new officers the ability to follow their interests, especially if they want to be part of a whitewater rescue group.
“Our city is proud and takes care of the officers who work here. So from that perspective, as far as law enforcement goes, we’re pretty well paid and have really good benefits and it’s easier to retain officers and recruit officers because of that. Then we offer a lot of things like a river rescue team that a lot of agencies just don’t, so that’s something guys can get involved in,” says Sgt. Matthew McGinnis, from the ministry’s public information office. “And the sense of community is really good in that size department.”