Canadian Ranger instructors now qualified as swiftwater rescue technicians

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Canadian Ranger instructors now qualified as swiftwater rescue technicians
Ten members from the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (3CRPG) spent three days in Parry Sound recently plunging into the chilly and fast-moving Magnetawan River as they refreshed their swiftwater rescue skills at Cody Rapids. Image - Canadian Rangers supplied

By Ranger MCpl Chris Vernon

Ten members from the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (3CRPG) spent three days in Parry Sound recently plunging into the chilly and fast-moving Magnetawan River as they refreshed their swiftwater rescue skills at Cody Rapids.

3CRPG instructors spent time both in the classroom and in the water from April 24 to the 27 completing the physically demanding Swiftwater Rescue Technician Course that taught participants how to conduct a rescue in a flood or fast-moving water situation.

The Canadian Rangers, a 5,000-member sub-component of the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) Primary Army Reserve, provide a limited military presence in Canada’s far north in areas prone to spring flooding and boating accidents, including Hudson Bay and James Bay.

Many members are Indigenous and First Nation and serve in the communities where they reside and are supported and trained by CAF Primary Reserve army personnel.

“Many of the communities are on the water. There is always flooding and spring ice breakup dangers. Knowing how to perform a rescue on the water safely and correctly is our bread and butter,” said 3CRPG instructor Warrant Officer Chris Thomson.

Conducted by Steve Ruskay from the Ottawa-based company Raven Rescue – Safety – Medical, Canadian Rangers were taught the core principles required to safely conduct a swift water rescue, including:

* the proper use of ropes and pulleys;

* flood rescues;

* tethered swimming;

* proper use of personal protection equipment;

* using knots and lashing;

* how to analyze rivers and eddies;

* using throw lines and throw bags;

* defensive and aggressive swimming.

A common tool used in a water rescue is a throw bag that consists of 50 feet of roped packed in a vinyl bag which can be thrown to a person in distress in the water. As the bag moves through the air the rope unfurls, and if the rope is out of reach of the victim it can be quickly retrieved, repacked in the attached bag, and thrown again.

Warrant Officer Thomson said the swiftwater course is part of a training regime that includes high elevation rope rescue and ice rescue training which Canadian Rangers practice annually.

3CRPG instructors will now impart a lot of what they learned on the course to the Canadian Ranger patrols located in the far north.

“There’s a lot of information to take in. We break it down to a mini course, based on their needs and what works for them at the local level,” said Warrant Officer Thomson.

3CRPG instructors must recertify every three years as a Swiftwater Rescue Technician, and that involves jumping into the Cody Rapids. As they tumble and splash downstream, fellow participants then employ their training and tools to rescue the mock victims.

“This is critical training because it provides standardized language when we are talking about the river environment. It also standardizes the rescue tools we use, so whether working with other Rangers or the OPP, everyone is using the same tools and language so they can seamlessly enter the rescue operation,” said Ruskay.

According to the Lifesaving Society of Canada’s 2018 Canadian Drowning Report, drowning rates within Canada’s First Nation and Indigenous communities are higher than the general population.

Between 2011 and 2015, 47 people on average died each year from drowning, and although Indigenous and First Nation people make up only four per cent of the population, according to the report, they represent 10 per cent of all drowning deaths.

Last year, Ontario Canadian Rangers participated in more than 21 ground search-and-rescue missions, rescuing 31 people, including two stranded truckers on an ice road, an injured Attawapiskat First Nation snowmobiler, and two young hunters whose all-terrain vehicles broke down, leaving them stranded about 100 kilometres away from their communities.

“It (the training) is also important for rescuer safety, having the awareness of the hazards involved in a river or flood water setting, and then knowing how to avoid or escape those hazards,” said Ruskay.

The 3CRPG, responsible for northern Ontario, is headquartered at CFB Borden.

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