Firefighters continue water rescue training
As the Panama City Beach Fire Rescue prepares to bring all beach rescue efforts under its wing, firefighters are honing their rescue skills.
Seven firefighters trained at Shipwreck Island last week, where they performed various drills treading water and practiced rescues during a simulated drowning and in 3-and-a-half foot waves.
“This is a standard we are trying to create to increase our open-water rescue skills,” said Battalion Chief Justin Busch. “We have them treading water for one minute, then we increase that to 10-to-15 minutes and then they tread water with a 10-pound brick.”
This additional training has been put in place by the fire department and is in addition to lifeguard and lifesaving certifications established by the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA).
Beginning October 1, Beach and Surf rescue services through the Panama City Beach Police Department jurisdiction will transfer to Fire Rescue. Additionally, the beach lifeguards, posted at both sides of the Russell-Fields City Pier and which are provided by the Parks and Recreation Department, will transfer to Fire Rescue. All water rescue efforts will be administered through a single department.
Currently both police and fire supplement the work of those assigned to beach safety, by increasing patrols especially during bad weather events such as the recent rough seas related to Hurricane Barry. Patrols are also increased during the height of tourist season and around major holidays like the Fourth of July.
“It’s a continuous effort to keep our team ready,” Busch said. “You have to be in really good shape to be a rescue swimmer, especially in open water.”
As the City grows in population and tourists, the volume of calls increases, including calls for service at the beach. More than 17.1 million visitors came to the City last year, and on any given day in the summer there are 150,000 people in town.
“We have a lot of people who come here to enjoy our beautiful beaches – locals and tourists,” said Fire Chief Larry Couch. “Unfortunately, a lot of them are not familiar with rip currents and do not respect the flag warning system.
“We want to be sure our first responders are as well-trained as possible because of the dangerous nature of water rescue. And the Panama City Beach Fire Rescue will continue our efforts to educate the public to keep everyone safe.”
Public Information Officer Debbie Ward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 233-5100, Ext. 2261.