Utah firefighters, paramedics practice river rescues

PROVO CANYON, Utah — Conditions are primed for a deadly summer on Utah’s fast-moving rivers and streams.

Unified Fire Authority firefighters and others from around the state spent weeks polishing their river rescue skills — something they hope they never have to use.

“This river right now is flowing pretty quick,” UFA paramedic Doug Greer said. “There’s definitely a lot coming through.”

While it looks more like playtime than work, the skills save lives. Members of the team recently returned from training rescuers in Morocco.

“After doing this for ten years, it still has me on edge. That’s a good thing,” UFA firefighter Rob Marriott said.

While they’ve traveled internationally, the focus is here at home and what’s happening with the snowmelt and persistent rains.

"With the heavy water, it is going to be even worse [this year] because the banks are swollen. It’s unpredictable. Right now, in the spring, is when we have the accidents,” UFA spokesman Keith Garner said.

To be as authentic as possible, UFA firefighters invited members of the media to take part.

“If we are out there, we are trying to pretend to be a victim. It’s not nearly as realistic as if you have somebody that might actually panic, who doesn’t know what’s going on, that reaction is the same way that a normal person would,” Garner said.

They begin by carrying survivors across the river. Then it gets more difficult, jumping in for a “live bait” rescue.

While the dozen men will risk their lives to save someone else, they offered advice for anyone planning to get close to a river.

“It takes just a second to get hypothermia to set in and to be swept down the river quickly, so I would say, right now in the year, stay away,” Marriott said.

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