First responders train for water rescue emergencies

Coast Guard, Harbor Patrol and Santa Barbara City Fire train together

POSTED: 04:16 PM PDT May 21, 2013    UPDATED: 07:01 PM PDT May 21, 2013 
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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -

First responders brushed up on their water rescue skills during training Tuesday morning.

Many people walking along the breakwater stopped to watch the training near the harbor. The mock rescues were a joint effort to get ready for the real thing.

Summertime is almost here, where more people hit the beach and head out on the water.

"You might be pulling somebody into a boat. In this case today, rescuing somebody off the breakwater, the jetty," said Capt. Gary Pitney, Santa Barbara City Fire Department.

Emergencies like this drill are common for both the Coast Guard and Harbor Patrol, but now one more group is in the mix.

"This is the first time we've done this with fire. They started a water rescue program about a year or so ago, and we regularly work with them and train with them now," said Steve McCullough, Harbor Patrol supervisor.

Out of the 90 firefighters at the Santa Barbara City Fire Department, 18 are certified rescue swimmers.

"And these are guys that went through the program, initially 40 hours of training, requires 16 hours of ongoing training on an annual basis. Some of it is a complicated as extended rescues with the helicopters and the Coast Guard, a lot of it just jointly working with lifeguards and the Harbor Patrol," said Pitney.

During the water rescue training, a Coast Guard swimmer jumped out of the helicopter and into the water. The Harbor Patrol boat sped to the acting victim and the rescue swimmers brought him to safety. But it didn't end there.

"When somebody gets injured on the water on a boat, sometimes they need to be evacuated and airlifted off to a hospital. They don't necessarily have time to take them in on a boat if we're off shore a ways," said McCullough.

A harness or basket was lowered to the boat and the acting victim was hoisted to the helicopter.

Training will not only help the three groups work together better, it might even save lives during a water emergency.

Tuesday's eight hours of drills will count toward the firefighters' annual training in order to keep up their certification.