On Wednesday morning, a boat overturned in a lake behind on Route 71 in Oswego. The boat was carrying four people, none of whom could swim, and the had to act quickly to rescue them.
After talking to one of the men who made it to shore, firefighters leapt into a small motorboat and used it to bring two others to safety. Then they headed out to the far side of the lake, where they flipped the boat back upright and rescued the fourth person.
It was a textbook operation, except for one thing: none of it was real.
Oswego firefighters spent their Wednesday morning training as if it were, though. According to Battalion Chief Jeff Warren, the department conducts water training a couple times a year, and though it’s not a skill they need to use often, mastering it could mean the difference between life and death for those who need saving.
Many Oswego firefighters are certified in water rescue, having completed a course called Swiftwater Rescue. Lt. Josh Walters, the department’s training officer, said 10 Oswego firefighters went through the course last year, and at least three will go through it this year.
But even those firefighters not Swiftwater certified need to be ready to act during a water emergency. On Wednesday, they practiced proper technique for flipping a motorboat over and rescuing people from beneath it. They also practiced operating the department’s motorboats, purchased last year, and Walters said every Oswego firefighter must be trained to use those boats.
The department has a further training session set for next month on the same lake, where they will practice driving and steering the motorboats, Walters said.
He called water rescues a “low-frequency, high-risk event,” and said even though they get few calls for them, the department practices as much as possible for them.
“We want to make sure that when we have to do it, we’re safe, and the people we’re going to get are safe,” he said.
Both Warren and Walters thanked the Hammond family, owners of the property, who have allowed the Oswego Fire Protection District to use the lake whenever they need it for more than 10 years.