Wet, cold and ready to act
Shouting and whistling through heavy mist on the Upper Coquitlam River Tuesday, eight men took turns leaping into the roaring water while the other seven worked to pull him out again.
It was all in a day’s work for the Coquitlam firefighters and Assistant Chief Greg Mayberry, who was putting the men through four days of swift-water rescue training this week.
These aren’t skills Coquitlam firefighters call upon often — maybe once a year — but occasions do arise and it’s important to be prepared, Mayberry said.
“We had a rescue last year up river of a fellow with [BC] Hydro [who] broke his leg,” Mayberry said, recalling the most recent deployment of a swift-water rescue team in Coquitlam.
Prior to that, the only other incidents Mayberry could recall from the last five years were the 2008 rescue of two people stranded on an inner tube on the Coquitlam River and the recovery of a body.
“The training is more for our own safety than anything else,” he said.
Kitted out with drysuits, helmets, lights, knives, whistles and waterproof radios, the firefighters gathered near an otherwise quiet corner of Galette Avenue to brave the jutting rocks, unpredictable currents and the cold at a point in the river where three tributaries converge.
At this time of year, the swollen Coquitlam is fed largely by melted snow and ice coming down from the mountains. That, said Mayberry, is precisely why they’re doing this training now.
“We have really high water levels with the rain and snowmelt right now,” he said, estimating the water temperature at around 50 F. “And it’s the time of year that fishermen are heading out on the rivers now.”
Mayberry’s advice to anyone heading out onto the area’s waterways for work or recreation is to have the common sense to always wear a life jacket.
“I really can’t stress that enough,” he said.