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Two career fire fighters seriously injured during swiftwater rescue training at a low-head dam - Ohio.

Berardinelli-S; Tarley-J
Morgantown, WV: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, FACE F2007-11, 2010 Mar; :1-17
On April 17, 2007, a 32-year-old male career fire fighter (Fire Fighter #1) nearly drowned and a 35-year old male career fire fighter (Fire Fighter #2) was seriously injured during river rescue training. The fire department was conducting their annual river rescue recertification and the fire fighters were practicing a two-boat tether maneuver technique directly downstream from a low-head dam. The primary rescue boat crossed the boil line and became stuck in the recirculating backwash directly below the low-head dam. The secondary rescue boat, which the two injured firefighters were operating, also crossed over the boil line and was pulled upstream into the backwash. The secondary rescue boat disintegrated after striking the dam. Both injured fire fighters operating the secondary rescue boat were seriously injured and spent several months in rehabilitation. Fire Fighter #1 was able to return to active fire service duty. Fire Fighter #2 was unable to return to active duty because of the extent of his injuries. Key contributing factors identified in this investigation include: not maintaining the secondary boat at a near downstream angle from the primary boat to which it was tethered; continuation of the training evolution when the secondary boat lost its downstream angle from the primary boat and/or when the primary boat started approaching too closely to the boil line; a safe downstream distance of the secondary boat from the low-head dam was not maintained; tactics to prevent the primary boat from crossing past the boil line were not employed such as peeling-out or swamping the secondary boat prior to the primary boat becoming stuck in the low-head dam's backwash; difficulties in correctly judging distances and the power of moving water; use of a shorter than recommended tether between the boats; use of a large floatable rescue device that required the primary boat to maneuver very close to the low-head dam to provide for a throwing delivery of the rescue device into the re-circulating backwash rather than a smaller device that could be delivered from a safer downstream distance; and use of a rescue procedure that directs the primary rescue boat to get "as close to the boil line as possible" rather than maintaining a safe distance from it. NIOSH investigators concluded that, in order to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments involved in swiftwater rescues at low-head dams should: 1. ensure that fire fighters training on swiftwater rescue techniques includes proper and consistent identification of the low-head dam's boil line and the point the rescue boat should not cross, and that this should occur prior to on-water exercises. 2. ensure that the secondary rescue boat is always maintained at a downstream angle from the primary rescue boat to which it is tethered and that the length of the tether is greater than 100 feet, with greater flow volumes necessitating longer tether lines. 3. ensure that the training instructor calls off the training evolution at any time a major safety violation occurs, such as the primary boat becoming too close to the boil line or the secondary rescue boat losing its downstream angle and starting to approach the low-head dam. 4. consider additional training in boat handling skills. 5. ensure that all fire fighters trained in swiftwater rescue are highly accomplished swimmers that have the ability to self-rescue if they unintentionally leave the safety of a rescue boat. 6. ensure that an incident safety officer is assigned during training and that additional resources are immediately ready to respond in the event of a training mishap, including additional rescue boats and rescue personnel wearing water safety personal protective equipment. 7. preplan their responses to low-head dams in their coverage area. 8. consider lower risk shore-based rescue techniques in the risk versus gain analysis of their swiftwater responses. Fire service training organizations should consider re-evaluating the Two-Boat Tether rescue technique.
Region-5; Fire-fighters; Accident-analysis; Accident-prevention; Accidents; Injuries; Injury-prevention; Traumatic-injuries; Safety-practices; Work-practices; Emergency-responders; Rescue-workers; Training; Surveillance
Publication Date
Document Type
Field Studies; Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation
Fiscal Year
NTIS Accession No.
NTIS Price
Identifying No.
NIOSH Division
Priority Area
Services: Public Safety
SIC Code
Source Name
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health