Volunteers conduct swift water training to save lives in the Columbia Basin

Volunteers conduct swift water training to save lives in the Columbia Basin

With the Columbia and Yakima Rivers flowing through southeastern Washington, many people have the chance to get out on the water. That chance does come with safety precautions though.

The Columbia Basin Dive Team helps when those precautions are not taken. The group of volunteers trains on the Yakima River to practice skills and techniques for potential accidents.

One technique involves throw bags. This is a canvas bag attached to a long rope, giving the volunteers a chance to rescue someone while they are in the water.

Rusty Bell has been a volunteer with the team for 17 years. He says the throw bags come into play when volunteers are on the shore trying to help.

“Have a good handle on this [bucket] because if you throw your bucket out there with water, you are done,” Bell said.

Similar to Bell, some volunteers have been donating time for years. Brock Long has been with the team for a shorter amount of time but felt like he had time to give back to his community.

“I did a polar plunge and saw these guys in there and thought: man,” Long said.

Another technique involves tying a rope on both sides of the river to ferry people across.

Volunteer Jim Davis said in cases like flooding, ferrying people from one point to another can get them to safety.

“If somebody was stuck on this side and the rescue team is on that side,” Davis said, “We can ferry them across with the least amount of struggle.”

By connecting a carabiner to a pulley-system, someone can be pushed by the river’s current to reach the other side.

Volunteer Scott Ruppelius said the team has never used the ferry system to rescue people but there are areas in the Columbia Basin that they could.

The most useful technique for the team involves boat rescues. They say everyone should wear a life-jacket when in and around open water, but boats come into play for accidents out on the water.

“He is going to be tired and like a limp noodle,” Bell said, “So pick him up by his jacket if you can.”

The team trains several times a week and conducts in-depth training sessions on throw bags, ferrying and boat rescue once a year. The team does specialize in diving as well, but each volunteer learns the tools to help save someone’s life.

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