Firefighters learn how to brave deep water too

Lawton_You may be used to seeing the fire department use water to put out blazes - but, water can be a hazard to firefighters.  A firefighter could fall into a tarp-covered swimming pool, pond, or lake during a rescue.  Even firefighters who can swim have drowned in this type of situation.

More than a dozen firefighters - in full firefighting gear are training in water safety.  They learn how to safe near - and in - deep water.  Wednesday's trip to the YMCA is not about splashing in the pool - it is all business.

"We're doing this training today - water rescue training - in order to familiarize the guys with what it's gonna be like if they were to happen to wander into a pool on a smoke, house fire, or at night, and happen to fall in with all their bunkers on and Scotts on," says Lawton Fire Department Senior Training Officer Michael Merritt.

Bunkers - the special suits firefighters wear for protection from extreme heat of fire - weigh 35 pounds when dry, and can weigh more than double that when wet.  But, bunkers are designed to trap air between the body and suit creating pockets of air to make the firefighter float.  "With the full bunker gear on and our boots, it was almost impossible to submerge ourselves completely underwater," says Lawton Fire Department firefighter James Carroll.

But, if the bunkers are designed to help a firefighter float in the water, how will they rescue someone who is drowning?  Many firefighters training Wednesday needed several attempts to swim to the bottom of the nine-foot pool.  "This way they prepare themselves, they know what their equipment is going to be able to do," says Carroll.  "They know that they'll be able to survive."

Firefighters also learned how to throw rescue ropes to pull someone from water to land, and what to do if someone is injured and is unable to move.  "We practiced simulating loading patients onto backboards, strapping them in," says Carroll.  "We also practiced rescuing each other, in case one of the firefighters do fall into a pool and are unable to get out."

Underwater air tanks help them go deeper into water.  "They don't realize that they will function down to about 12 to 15 feet," says Carroll.  "We've had some guys that have fallen into pools in the night-time, during smoky conditions, where they couldn't see the pool - just accidentally fallen in... and you don't know how they're going to react."

Merritt began teaching water safety training two years ago, and it is now standard in the Lawton Fire Department's Academy.  For the public, the Lawton YMCA will host "Splash" next week during Spring Break, where there will be daily swimming lessons, and training in water safety and rescue breathing, at a cost of $5 for the entire week.  Morning and afternoon sessions will be offered.  For more information contact the Lawton YMCA at 580-355-9622, or visit their website at