Just one day after the Okanagan’s first drowning of 2021, local firefighters are making a splash with water rescue skills.
A team from West Kelowna Fire Rescue spent three days this week on the shores of and in the Shuswap River at Cherryville. Under the direction of Raven Rescue’s Karsten von Hoesslin, the team is now Swiftwater Rescue Technician certified.
But the Vernon-based instructor wasn’t the only one teaching. His trusty companion Delphin was a stark reminder of why a large number of people end up in the water.
“We have so many swiftwater fatalities in the province linked to pet rescue. Owners panicking and trying to help their pets,” von Hoesslin said.
“So I try to use her for scenarios where we do the harnesses and rescue techniques and also demonstrate how animals swim.”
Delphin (named after Delphinius) is a K9 service dog who is trained in detecting bombs and human remains in the water and she is an avalanche dog up at Silver Star, where von Hoesslin is an avalanche forecaster. He is also the in-house instructor for Vernon Search and Rescue. Delphin once even discovered a body during a training session with von Hoesslin in California.
She’s also travelled the world with his owner, who has taken part in a multitude of events, including rescuing civilians who were held captive by pirates for 10 months.
Training on the Dancing Rock Rapids this week, the firefighters learned about the various rescue options, plus tips and tricks, for both animals and humans.
With spring coming in hot and more people drawn to the water, the chance fire crews may need these skills is becoming greater.
The team also rolled into the North Okanagan just one day after the Okanagan’s first drowning. A 53-year-old man swimming in Okanagan Lake near Penticton on April 19 was pulled to shore by a bystander who saw him showing signs of distress. The man died in hospital.
Training in the chilly spring waters of the river gave the crew true hands-on experience as they practised different swimming techniques, throwing ropes to members in the water and pulling others to safety.
“It’s a really nice mix of fast class one and then rapid water as well,” von Hoesslin said of the training location.
Each of the 40 firefighters at the West Kelowna department goes through the training annually, as members provide technical rescue for the region (which includes Westside Road).
“We don’t have to use it very often, but when you do have to use it, you want to be good at it,” assistant chief of training Lionel Bateman said.
Last year, the West Kelowna members rescued a girl from Glen Canyon Creek.