Johnson City Press: Whether a heavy rain or major flood - local EMS services are ready

Whether a heavy rain or major flood - local EMS services are ready

Hannah Swayze • Aug 12, 2018 at 12:19 AM

KINGSPORT — Some of the rescuers hip-deep in the Holston River Saturday might have been knee-deep on West Market Street in Johnson City Friday night.

But whether they were “rescuing” their instructor from a sunken car or helping stranded Little Chicago festival-goers from their cars the night before, water’s potential for danger was on their minds.

And thanks to weekend Swiftwater training classes, Washington County/Johnson City Emergency Medical Services first responders’ skills are up-to-date.

On Saturday afternoon, local and out-of-town EMS staff instructed and were students with other first responders in a Rescue from Vehicles in Water workshop. It was one day in a two-day class.

The day began with the crew sinking a car into the Holston River at Domtar Park. After that, the class of five local EMS workers and 12 from North Carolina began running drills to and from the vehicle in both shallow and deep water using a variety of methods and tactics.

“They utilize motorized boats handling skills, paddle boat handling skills, rope skills, swimming skills and then just knowing what water’s going to do,” said Brandon Kurfees, the Swiftwater team leader.

The first responders also learn how to talk to victims they may be rescuing and learn a bit about hydrology so they understand how the water moves and how it will react to the car in it so they can better learn how to get to it.

While they do quarterly training and regular classes, Evan Clyburn, who has been involved in this kind of training since 1999, said continuing training is necessary because situations are always changing.

“Technical rescue is a pretty dynamic field. We’re always learning from different events across the U.S., so we try to do updates as well as our monthly practices we try to come out at least once a year and do a class and update everybody on it,” he said.

Kurfees said while downtown flood mitigation parks like King Commons and Founders Park have made their calls to the city center area less frequent, their training doesn’t go unused.

In fact, several EMS staff members were out the night before Saturday’s training session helping a few people from their cars at the Little Chicago festival, where the water was up to the door. They also worked to keep kids and bystanders out of the roiling water.

Lt. Keith Ellis urges anyone who finds themselves in or around an area that is flooded to avoid the water completely.


Because even though it might look safe, it might not be.

“We always tell them to keep a distance away, because we do not want them to become part of the scene,” said Ellis.

That applies not only to an active rescue but also to people who find the road in front of them covered in water. Ellis says no one should ever drive or walk into floodwaters, whether the water is standing or moving.

He said a number of things could go wrong: the car could get swept away with the driver in it, a man-hole cover could have come up in the flood leaving a hole in the road, or even the road itself could have been washed away. 

He says even driving through water is dangerous because once the water gets high enough, cars can become buoyant and be swept away.

With the recent flooding, Ellis encourages everyone to remember the National Weather Service’s advice to, “turn around, don’t drown.”

“It you cant see the roadway you don’t need to be driving through it at all,“ said Ellis.

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