In an effort to move from one side of the river and reach the victims on the other side, the team of four swift water rescuers, Zeb Jensen, Capt. Will Martinez, Michael Wangler and AprilLynn LeBaron slowly walk facing the current through the swift waters during an exercise on March 9 at the Virgin River. Photo by Stephanie Clark.

There have been at least four drownings in the nearby Virgin River during the past 10 years, according to fire department officials, and that is four too many. During each of those incidents, Mesquite and Beaver Dam did not have an official Swift Water Rescue team in place. All that has changed over the past year thanks to several members of the Mesquite Fire Rescue Team and Fire Chief Kash Christopher.

Once rescuers have crossed the river successfully, they can tie down some lines to help secure tools they may need. By using a raft, they carefully load it with items needed for the rescue or to assist the victims and guide it across the river. When they are finished, crews from the safe point bring the raft back over. Photo by Stephanie Clark.

“The Virgin River is unique,” said Deputy Chief Rick Resnick. “The conditions of the water don’t necessarily reflect the weather we are having at any given moment. It can change quickly and turn very violent, endangering anyone who might be in it or near it.”

That concept is the center of conversation for many of the areas surrounding the Colorado River and the smaller rivers that branch off of it. With the snowpack from this winter beginning to melt, officials are watching river levels closely to monitor possible flooding and danger.

The most recent drowning was of a 3-year-old girl who was quickly swept by the water and moved downstream before being found at the Bunkerville Bridge in 2012. Finding the child was half the battle, recovering her body was the other half.

For safety and stability, rescuers are anchored to a line that is secured above them from one side of the river to the other. For each rescue, personnel get down into the water and carry their victim with them while crews on the safer side of the river pull them in. This theoretically saves energy for the rescuer and allows them to hold on to the victim tightly so they don’t float downstream. Photo by Stephanie Clark.

For a week and a half last year, four members of Mesquite Fire Rescue attended an intensive training event in Laughlin, where the waters can be very strong and violent in spots on a regular basis.

“It is very physically demanding testing,” Resnick said.

The education and testing is monitored by the State Fire Marshall’s division and is carried out by a third party national certification company. While there are many companies that offer the same training, all training is synced so that all personnel are trained according to the same skills and standards, enabling an interagency incident to move smoother because everyone would be on the same page.

Mesquite Fire Rescue’s team put their training to the test on March 9 with an exercise at the Virgin River behind the walking path that goes behind Hughes Middle School on Hafen Lane. The scenario was set to be much of what river-goers might find in the spring and summer as temperatures rise and they seek coolness from the flowing water. Four people were enjoying themselves on the riverbank one afternoon when suddenly the river began to flow higher and faster, so much so, that they were floated down river a ways before reaching the river bank on the opposite side of the river to find safety.

A new tool for Mesquite Fire Rescue is a handy camera that is erected about 35 feet into the air. The zoom ability allows personnel to observe over 75 yards away or more and projects the images back to the Emergency Operations Center, the EM-50 or to personnel’s cell phones as needed. Each viewer can take over the control of the camera as needed to change the focus, range and direction of the images at any time during an emergency situation. Photo by Stephanie Clark.

Of the four victims, one was diabetic, another had a broken arm. The third suffered from anxiety and the last had some broken ribs and other injuries.

One by one, each of the rescuers took turns going through the motions of rescuing the victims safely to paramedics waiting for them on the north side of the river. It was dubbed a successful event.

“We put a lot of effort into this and considering it was our first event as well as an interagency exercise, I think it went well,” said Christopher. Beaver Dam Fire also had several personnel on scene to assist with the processes of the rescue.

“An exercise like this does identify some shortfalls, and we do have a couple, but none that we can’t fix. This is just another testament to the men and women in my department and their dedication to the community’s safety,” said Christopher.

The exercise is the first of many that are planned, as the training and practice is required for several grants.

Another tool that has been implemented for Mesquite Fire Rescue was the use of a camera atop of the EM-50, the RV-looking vehicle that is used for extended periods of time at various active scenes and incidents for Mesquite Police and Fire Departments. The camera, which was acquired last year, can give live images back to controllers, whether they are on scene, at the Emergency Operations Center at City Hall or out on another call. The zoom effect of the camera can give detail to items over 75 yards away as it can be raised up to 35 feet above the EM-50. “This gives us a better grasp on a situation,” Christopher said. “It will be very beneficial in the event we have a real emergency and need to have real-time updates on status.”

Fire Captain John Gately observes images from the camera atop the EM-50 from inside the vehicle, monitoring the rescue situation closely. Images from the camera can be recorded and used for media releases if needed during a real-life situation, or for training and reference purposes. Photo by Stephanie Clark.

Other exercises are in the process of being planned for Mesquite Fire Rescue and city officials as an ongoing effort to ensure that all residents and visitors to Mesquite receive the high-level of safety in an emergency situation.