Tuesday, November 29, 2011

QFRS Swiftwater Course

Swiftwater Course QFRS – Tully

You can imagine my surprise and delight when I got a phone call offering me a place on the Queensland Fire and Rescue Swiftwater course. The smile grew even bigger when I heard it was at Tully (near Cairns) and I’d have to be up there for a week. Shannon Crofton and I were to evaluate the QFRS Swiftwater course from a participant’s perspective.

Arriving in Cairns on the 12th Nov we met with 2 guys from Melbourne Fire and our guide Don, before heading south to Mission Beach resort, which would be our accommodation for the week. As expected, FNQLD was tropically hot and humid and we were quickly in the pool once at the resort.

Day 1 and the 4 of us had a theory session to ensure our knowledge and skills were up to speed. This proved very enlightening as the QFRS certainly do a few things different to us. By the end of the day the remaining 12 Queensland participants had arrived.

The following morning saw us on the bus and heading to the Tully River by 7am. Plenty of jokes flowed about the potential crocodiles that reside in the river, we were assured that croc’s do actually live in the river which had us all a little concerned. Nevertheless we were soon at checkpoint 9 of the river and preparing for our first lesson.

The Tully River looked very impressive, yet daunting at the same time. For me, it was the first time I’d swum in a natural environment and the risk of danger seemed so much more real than swimming at Penrith Whitewater. The day unfolded with the usual defensive and offensive swimming and catching some of the smallest eddies. By the end of the day everyone was well and truly bushed and the talk on the bus returning to our resort reflected that.

Day 2 and 3 saw more of the same hard work plus the introduction of ropework and IWP’s. Once again the strain on my body was extremely taxing. On more than one occasion I had to dig deep on a swim leg, just to catch the desired eddy. Some of the roping techniques learned over the week will be invaluable in the improvement of Swiftwater rescue in our area. Likewise the use IWP’s (inflatable boats) will be more widely used after the week on the Tully. It was one of these IWP training sessions that I’ll remember for a long time to come. 7 of us experienced what it was like to be swept over a low head dam and fortunately we all popped out the other side relatively unscathed.

As day 4 started I was feeling less than healthy, I had arms of lead and my confidence was shot and with still 2 days ahead of me I knew that I couldn’t keep this pace and at this point I chose to refrain from further assessment. Its something I regret now as the hardest part of the course was behind us but at the time my fitness level was letting me down.

Throughout day 4 we did various small assessment drills, both on land and in the water. Late in the afternoon we did a few scenarios on the river which tested our teamwork, one of these included a night scenario where an unknown number of casualties had been lost on the river. This was a great awareness session to what a rescuer could be faced with when undertaking a rescue on the water at night.

Our final day of the course was mostly spent using the IWP in various tethered systems as well as an introduction to the float ladder. With the course completed we headed back at the resort where we could finally relax with a well-deserved debrief and a good socialising session by the pool.

After 5 days on the Tully River I was absolutely spent, the QFRS Swiftwater course had been very demanding on my body but it was thoroughly rewarding. I had learned an array of new skills, refreshed current skills and knowledge and came home with a renewed interest in flood rescue.

Thanks to the instructors and my fellow participants for a great time on the Tully.

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