Bremerton firefighters dive in to water rescue drill

Posted: Oct. 14, 2014

By Josh Farley of the Kitsap Sun

MANETTE ? Five months after the rescue of an elderly man whose had car plunged into Sinclair Inlet off Bachmann Park, firefighters returned there this week to train for that kind of emergency.

Eight crew members from the Bremerton Fire Department donned wet suits and snorkel gear Sunday and Monday and practiced how to pull someone out of a submerged car.

The department spent about $7,000 to buy equipment and hire a consultant to train the firefighters on how to perform such a rescue in a way that minimizes risk for all involved.

“We have the equipment now and we’ve got the basic training,” said Rob Ashmore, one of the eight. “I think it gives us the tools we need to perform one of these rescues in a safe way.”

Bachmann Park was where an 88-year-old man, whose brakes had apparently failed, drove his Cadillac Eldorado off the bank and into Sinclair Inlet on May 8. Police officers, firefighters and others were able to pull the man from the car and save his life.

But how they proceed in incidents like the one in May is not always certain and the two day training hopefully offers some guidance.

“In the past, we’ve felt like our hands are tied” at such a rescue, said Bremerton firefighter Kevin Bonsell. “This is going to enable us to take action when there’s an opportunity.”

And such a rescue may be needed again, given Kitsap County’s geography. In 2013, Bremerton police responded to eight water rescues, according to police department records.

“We’re literally surrounded by water,” Ashmore said. “That’s why it’s so important.”

The eight firefighters ? included one who helped save the 88-year-old man ? took turns diving about 12 feet into the water, as ferry boats rumbled by, in an effort to bring a dummy to the surface. But before they could get at the dummy, they had to break a pane of glass attached to a basket underwater, then reach inside it to unbuckle the dummy’s seat belt. The training was put on by John Hall, a Port Angeles firefighter who runs a shoreline and swiftwater rescue consulting firm on the side. He had help from Kurt McGowan, a Coast Guardsman who for 10 years has worked as a rescue swimmer.

Along with the eight trained this week, all Bremerton firefighters will be aware of standard procedures for a water rescue. The purchased equipment ? wet suits and snorkel gear ? will be available to all shifts and maybe placed on fire engines so they can be accessed quickly.

The training also served to help the firefighters understand what they can accomplish in such a crisis, versus what they can’t. If the car or person plunges too deep ? 40 feet, say ? divers would have to be called.

“This (training) helps us to have confidence in our abilities,” said Bremerton firefighter Travis Calhoun. “It lets us understand what we’re able to do.”