Mooresville Fire-Rescue Conducts 3-Day Swift Water Rescue Training

Floodwaters can rise quickly – within minutes – and it can mean life or death for residents. Mooresville Fire-Rescue’s Swift Water Rescue Team steps in quickly to help residents locally and across North Carolina. This week, the team of 40 firefighters are in the water, polishing their skills and making sure every piece of equipment operates properly – from their GPS trackers to their boats.

“What we’re setting up and trying to emulate is a wide-area flood search,” said Ryan Harrell, Mooresville Fire-Rescue (MFR) Captain. “When we do swift water training, we’re all gung-ho about jumping in the water and swimming, but, in reality, on deployments, you’re going to do a lot of low-speed activities. That could be getting an address, then going to that address to help evacuate or assist. We’re simulating sending people miles downstream, miles down flood waters to a location with nothing but an address, an ailment or problem, and markers along the way to help them find that point.”

This week, the team is conducting a search-and-rescue operation. Team members in boats must use radios, GPS, and cell phones to find 25 different locations along the lake and report back to the Command Post on what they “find” – from kids screaming in the attic to a dog treading water on a leash. Meanwhile, those inside the Command Post are tracking their moves using SARTopo and Survey123. The platforms track crews’ movements, what they find along the way, and what challenges they could face in the water ahead.

“In real life, these incidents are low frequency, but high risk,” said James Dunn, MFR Engineer. “This allows us to go back over the training and use our skills that we haven’t necessarily used on a day-to-day basis. Just refamiliarizing ourselves with the tools and technology that we have.”

Those skills played a key role when 10 team members responded to the deadly flooding in Hiddenite on November 12, 2020. The team received a call for assistance early that morning and were out the door within 45 minutes. When they arrived, they were met with nine to 10-feet of rapidly moving water, which already swept away campers, RVs, and people. The Swift Water Rescue team quickly set up their 500 lb. boats, put them in the water, and began their search operation within minutes. The group helped save people from floodwaters and later received awards from the Town of Mooresville.

MFR Chief Curt Deaton says this week’s training is important for the Town of Mooresville as well as the entire state of North Carolina.

“When we go to events of this scale, we really have to know what we’re doing,” said Chief Deaton. “Being proficient at it is very important. And doing these exercises at larger scale helps our team members be efficient at conducting searches, being in the water, and using our equipment.”

MFR currently has five swift water rescue boats ready to use during search-and-rescue operations, flooding, and hurricanes. They also have various boat motors, wet suits, helmets with night vision equipment, trailers, GPS trackers, cell phones, among other gear. Keeping a swift water rescue team operational isn’t cheap. Some of the equipment is grant funded, some of it’s funded by the Town of Mooresville, and some of it’s funded by state-allocated money. Chief Deaton applauds the Town Board and partnerships with N.C. Emergency Management for allowing them to be an asset to Mooresville and the state.

“It took us many years to get to this point and having the foresight, the technology, and the funds to be able to do this, it makes the efficiency of an operation safer for our team members, but also safer for the public,” said Chief Deaton.

Captain Harrell says the Swift Water Rescue team is more important than ever, as Mooresville and surrounding areas continue to grow and expand.

“With asphalt and concrete, when it rains, you don’t have the permeable surface to soak up that water so now it’s going into the watershed, Reeds Creek, and other places around Town,” said Harrell. “We’re growing like crazy, and the creeks are getting out every time it rains. It takes one curious kid to go down and get in the water.”

The Swift Water Rescue team will continue training through Friday, November 11.