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Training day for swiftwater rescue teams

February 24, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Fire officials in San Bernardino County spent the day training for a potential swiftwater emergency as another storm heads our way.

There isn't much water in Lytle Creek at the moment, but that's expect to change dramatically as a big storm comes in this weekend. Lytle Creek is a trouble spot for swiftwater rescue teams. They are often called out during big storms.

Thursday, team members in San Bernardino County spent the day training for a potential swiftwater emergency.

The water coming out of a spillway is swift moving and extremely cold. If a real person was caught in it, it would be considered a life or death situation.

The San Bernardino County Swiftwater Rescue Team trains for those situations.

"This is one of the most dangerous things fire departments across the nation do, swiftwater rescue," said Donnie Viloria from the San Bernardino County Fire Department. "I take a great deal of pride in this, there's not a lot of fire departments to this day that are well versed in these techniques."

And they're techniques that come into play quite often. Just a couple months ago, a driver tried to pass through swift moving water on Lytle Creek Road, and was swept away. But she made it out alive, thanks mostly to well-trained rescue personnel.

"Saving lives is what we do," said Viloria. "That's the business that we're in, we're all very compassionate individuals, that's what we do is save lives."

The swiftwater rescue team practices once a year and this is very important training, because when you're in the middle of a real life rescue situation, that's not a very good time to be rusty.

"It's extremely cold," said Viloria. "It's a survival situation when we get out there."

During the last big storm, fire fighters were called out more than 80 times for rescue situations, ten of them were life threatening.

"We've had numerous fatal situations," Battalion Chief Jim Johnstone from San Bernardino County Fire. "And that's what we want to make sure of, is people stay out of those rushing water situations so we don't have to be called."

The swiftwater rescue team is hoping not to get too many calls this weekend. They said that since this storm is expected to be much colder than the one last December, they aren't expecting as much rain.

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