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Water Safety

Posted in:
May 28, 2013

EMS providers take risks to save lives every day.

 But EMTs need to protect themselves in order to save lives. Responding to a natural disaster, fire or motor vehicle accident requires a heightened sense of situational awareness.

Of all the hazardous environments EMTs work in, water rescues are among the most dangerous. Western New York is water rich with lakes, rivers, creeks and ponds dotting the landscape and there are thousands of backyard pools. It would be unusual for an EMS provider to never be called to a scene that involves water.

Lt. Tim Richardson of the City of Olean Fire Department said one of the biggest dangers EMTs face when performing a water rescue is electrical hazard.

“A lot of people have ponds on their property and use pumps to circulate the water,” he said. “If you see any kind of a motor or electrical lines going to equipment near a pond, you need to make sure that’s tripped and off before attempting the rescue.”

Lt. Richardson said EMS providers should always follow their agency protocols for water rescues and only trained providers should attempt a water rescue. He said one of the most important things an EMT can do when responding to a water rescue is slow down.

“It’s hard to do because you want to help,” he said. “But you need to slow down and do a good scene survey before attempting any kind of rescue. Try and determine what happened. Talk to the bystanders and ask them how the person was acting in the water just before the emergency.”

He said the basics of water rescue can be boiled down to the acronym RTRG - reach, throw, row, go. EMTs should first attempt to use a pole or other device to reach the victim in the water. If the victim is conscious, a line with a life ring attached can be thrown to them. If you have access to a boat, you can row out to the victim. The last option is to go, to physically enter the water to reach the victim.

Lt. Richardson said entering the water poses the greatest risk. People struggling to swim and in fear of drowning have drowned rescue swimmers, he said.

“They’re so afraid, they’ll actually push you down in the water in an attempt to keep themselves above the water,” he said. “A boat is obviously the best way to get someone out of the water. It offers the most protection.”

He also said all EMS providers working in and around a water environment should be wearing personal flotation devices.

“A lot of staying safe around water just involves using common sense,” he said. “Just make sure you do a good scene survey, look for electrical equipment, talk to bystanders and be careful.”

Orginal post by STEMS