In-depth water training{SOURCE} By KARA CHALMERS
kara.chalmers@heraldtribune.com


ENGLEWOOD -- A firefighter in full gear could fall off a dock while fighting a fire at a marina. A child could disappear at Englewood Beach, or a Jet Ski rider could crash into a Wellcraft fishing boat in Lemon Bay.

Emergencies like these happen in Englewood, a place with miles of shoreline and countless canals. But after five days of water rescue training, the Englewood Area Fire Control District firefighters say they're prepared to handle them.



The fire district hired Jeff Silcock, a Fort Myers firefighter and former beach lifeguard who built his own part-time consulting business around teaching water rescue techniques to firefighters all over Florida. Silcock held the exercises throughout the week in classrooms, in the pool at the Days Inn in Englewood, in Lemon Bay, and at the beach.

Silcock was paid $3,750, money that came from an $11,000 grant the district received from the Charlotte County Marine Advisory Committee.



The impetus for the training is that fires near water, boating accidents, and falls off docks are a part of life here. Englewood firefighters responded to 22 water emergencies from October 2001 to October 2002, said Assistant Chief Kirk Gaskell. None of them proved fatal, he said.

Gaskell said firefighters used to train only for rescues on land.

"In the past, it's been the shoreline -- that's where we've stopped," Gaskell said. He said that firefighters are now expected to know how to deal with emergencies in the water, especially in Florida.



Silcock brought with him a model of a car, made of pipes and corrugated PVC sheeting, that the firefighters sank in the pool at the Days Inn. In their fire district T-shirts and slacks, they practiced rescuing one another from the car, simulating a case where a person had driven it off a dock.

The firefighters also learned techniques for saving drowning people, and they retrieved 10-pound weights from the pool bottom with goggles that had been sandblasted so the water would look murky.



They went to the beach at Stump Pass State Park and pretended to search for a missing child by locking arms, walking out into the water, and sweeping over the bottom with their feet.

On Thursday, seven firefighters from the Englewood department participated in the training. Earlier in the week, firefighters from departments in Venice and Nokomis joined them.

One exercise entailed having the firefighters fall off the side of the pool in full gear -- pants, jacket, helmet, gloves and mask.



"Many of these firefighters have never felt what it's like to be in the water with equipment," said Lt. Ray Bauer, a training officer. He said most people don't realize that a firefighter who accidentally falls in won't sink. There are spots in their gear that fill with air, so as long as the firefighter doesn't panic, he'll float, Bauer said.

Firefighter Vinny Boccio said the first time he jumped in a pool wearing full gear was during similar training. He said he was surprised by how buoyant he was. He said it wasn't scary, just "different."