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Falls Dam used for realistic training exercise for search and rescue teams

Published Nov. 13, 2018

   North Carolina's Urban Search and Rescue Regional Response system provides quick disaster response for locating and rescuing victims. The Urban Search and Rescue (USR) program responds to every kind of disaster, and the state maintains seven regional Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces.  During Hurricane Florence, the Swift Water Rescue Team went into action to assist people who were in danger. 

   “Our rescue team was deployed to Scotland County,” said Capt. Mike Davidson, Technical Rescue Program Manager.  “On at least one occasion during the deployment, skills that were taught at the most recent training were utilized. Two of our newest water rescue technicians from that class were on the deployment along with a number of the instructors from the class.”

   That most recent training Davidson referred to took place at Falls Dam in late August.  The churning waters below the dam provided the most realistic area for the team’s specific needs.   

   “Typically the Neuse River in the Raleigh area does not have the flow necessary for that training,” Davidson said.  “However, when we can coordinate a release of at least 2000 cubic feet per second (cfs) from the dam with our training dates, we are able to train in water that meets those goals. The biggest advantage to us is it allows us to train locally without the need to travel to other rivers within the state.”

   The Wilmington District is eager to offer its facilities to local, state and other federal agencies for training.  U.S. Army units from Fort Bragg, for example, have used Corps projects for various training  exercises, and the Cary Fire Department Swift-Water Rescue Team trained below Jordan Dam recently by using high releases from floodwaters stored from Hurricane Florence.

   “We have good relations with the area fire departments and they use Falls Lake for different types of training throughout the year, as well as provide us rescue back-up when we have confined space entries on the project,” said Carol Banaitis.  “Being able to support their training leads to a better partnership, and hopefully we'll be able to partner again in the future.” 

   Davidson explained that his organization is a local Fire Department charged with saving lives and property.  In addition to fighting fires they have a trained rescue team that performs rescues in several technical areas such as Trench Rescue, Confined Space Rescue, Vehicle Extrication, High Angle Rescue, Structural Collapse Rescue and Swift Water Rescue.

   “For Water Rescue we need to do periodic continuous education training, as well as new techni-cian training, in water that closely represents the water we face when performing rescues.    Davidson said that the training they do throughout the year is vital.  He said this is even more so in the technical rescue areas as they are low frequency and high risk events compared to some of the other disciplines that they are trained in.