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.
“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 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.
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.”
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.