Training Against the Tides

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By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Tuesday, July 18, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- Firefighters teamed with lifeguards in a practice drill seen by numerous beachgoers at Hampton Beach this past Friday morning, to pull a "drowning" man aboard Marine Rescue 1.

Hampton Fire Chief Hank Lipe said it was the first time his department teamed with the lifeguards in a joint training exercise, but it won't be the last.

"We are working together for the first time in order to bring a higher degree of rescue capabilities to the beach," Lipe said.

Lipe said the impetus for the joint training session on Friday was last year's drowning of two Massachusetts men who were swept away by a riptide.

While lifeguards and firefighters were able to save 10 others who got caught in the riptide last July, Lipe said they realized both groups needed more training.

"When we took a look back at the events of July 4 a year ago, we realized that on that particular day the firefighters were in as much danger as the victims in the water," Lipe said. "We needed more rescue training in order to understand how the ocean is, because when the lifeguards leave, we become the rescuers."

He said before the training exercise, firefighters participated in a classroom water-rescue safety course.

The mock exercise was done to incorporate the town's rescue boat in assisting lifeguards in water rescues.

Fire Lt. John Stevens said there are occasions when the surf is so rough it is easier for lifeguards to tow a victim to a boat than it is to tow them back to shore.

"We are trying different techniques to see how effectively it can work," Stevens said.

Stevens said they also spent the day sharing rescue techniques.

"They have a lot of equipment that we don't normally use," Stevens said. "They are showing us how they use their tow bags and other rescue gear that we may not be too familiar with."

Lifeguards also shared with firefighters tips to identify rip currents and where they are likely to occur at the beach, including the area in front of the World War II statue and the strip of beach in front of the Playland Arcade.

"We want to maintain a high level of safety and to do that we must understand the riptides, currents and the proper procedures to pull someone in," Lipe said.

Stevens said, as part of the firefighters' training, they are also communicating more with the lifeguards, especially before they go off duty at 5 p.m.

"We want to know what the conditions are like down there because once they go off-duty we are responsible," Stevens said.

Seacoast Park Supervisor Brian Warburton said the training was just as beneficial for the lifeguards as it was the firefighters.

"We are always looking for additional ways to work with the town," Warburton said. "I'm very pleased with the cooperation that has been going on. We are always looking for new ways to cross-train to ensure that is one of the safest beaches in the state."