(City of Oak Ridge press release) Over the last 24 months, Oak Ridge Fire Department Captain Jason Benjamin has been training a crew of firefighters to become rescue swimmers. On Thursday, April 12, their training was put to the test.
At approximately 3:35 p.m. Thursday, the Oak Ridge 911 center received a call reporting a canoe had turned over in the cove at the entrance to Clark Center Park. The fire department arrived on the scene and found a man hanging on to a fence post in the water after falling out of his canoe.
Although the man had a life jacket on, he was cold and could not negotiate himself back into the canoe or to the shore. With no place to launch the rescue boat in the backwater area, the ORFD Battalion Chief placed the rescue swimmers, Logan Latham and Skyler West, into the water to assist the man and bring him to shore. They entered the 57-degree water at 3:46 p.m. and swam approximately 40 yards out to the stranded man. By 3:50 p.m., Latham, West and the man were all out of the water and safe. The swimmers were also able to retrieve the man’s canoe and most of his belongings.
Anderson County EMS responded to the scene to evaluate the patient, but he refused all treatment and transport. He reported no serious injuries.
The City of Oak Ridge is surrounded on three sides by water. There are many areas where canoes and kayaks can navigate, but rescue boats are unable to launch. Rescue swimmers are often the only means of quickly reaching individuals who are in distress and bringing them to safety.
In Thursday’s incident, the man was a non-swimmer so he wore a life jacket while in the canoe. This is an important lesson and message for all boaters – The weather may be warming up, but the water is still frigid and in less than four minutes, many individuals will begin to lose the ability to move effectively in the cold water. The Oak Ridge Fire Department encourages all boaters to wear personal flotation devices, especially when in a canoe, kayak, or other small non-motorized water craft.