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Texas Task Force 1 On Lake For Swift Water Rescue Training

ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) - The elite Texas Task Force One first responders went to an area leveled by a deadly fertilizer plant explosion in April and experienced the aftermath of a killer EF-5 tornado that ripped an Oklahoma town apart just weeks ago. But those situations aren't the most dangerous of environments members can find themselves in -- raging white flood waters are.

Thus emergency crews from across the state were in North Texas to train this week.

Members of Texas Task Force 1 used the water discharge rapids at the Exelon Power Plant on Lake Arlington for some very realistic swift water rescue training Thursday.

"This is the most dangerous thing that we do, flash-flooding/swift-water rescue conditions," said Fort worth Fire Department Captain Mark Ware. "We're out here doing boat ops on fast moving water. We normally don't get the opportunity to do it on swiftly moving water like we do here."

"Here" is a spillway with water rushing from it into Lake Arlington. Ironically, it's the lack of water that brought rescue crews from a dozen different agencies around the state to this spot.

"With the drought conditions we have an issue of finding moving water to train in," said Captain Donnie Dean of the Fort Worth Fire Department. "We have man made water here and Excelon was kind enough to let us come and use the discharge water out their power plant."

The rapids are generated and controlled by the Exelon Coporation power plant off of Rosedale. Huge pumps pull the water from the lake -- it then cools the power plant's equipment before the water is pushed back into the lake. And that's the water creating the rapids.

Fort Worth Fire Marshal Landon Stallings explained how team members put their inflatable boats into the rushing water. "They'll pull upstream here," he said pointing. "Slowly they're able to avoid obstacles and kind of size up the situation. And then they'll get next to the car and one of the person's in the front, a bowman, will assist the person into the boat."

Stallings said training in a pool or lake is good, but the power plant helps provide some rare water rapids. "It's a great resource anytime, but it's especially good now because the state of Texas is in a drought and there's just not any moving water."

During one exercise a Team 1 member jumped in the water and pretended to be a victim. Two other team members drove a boat out near him, but never got in the water. "Instead of just simply pulling him into the boat, they're gonna use a maneuver where they drive the boat in a circle and that centrifugal force helps load him into the boat," Stallings said.

Performing regular exercises is always good, but given the current conditions across North Texas Stallings said this type of training is invaluable. "Because every drought breaks with a flood. It's better to have your skills honed and ready than to try and knock the rut off of your skills in the middle of the night, on a rescue."

Its the first time in Texas there's been a public private relationship allowing rescue crews and firefighters to train.

Jimmy Porch is with Exelon Energy and said the company is more than glad to let Texas Task Force 1 use their facility. "This is the first that I've ever seen anything like this and it's amazing."

They learn to maneuver and even hover their boats in swift moving water, and they practice man-overboard procedures, preparing for disaster in a one-of-a-kind training area. As far as for training purposes, the rushing water was expected but the added gusting winds added to the complexity of the simulation. "It's just invaluable to spend time in moving water, in those boats," said Stallings. "You can take them to the lake and you can drive them, but the boats just don't behave the same as they do in moving water."

"The first time we're out in this dynamic moving water shouldn't be the first time you're doing a rescue in it," said Capt. Dean. "We wanted to be able to train in it before we're out there doing rescues.
After all -- it's the most dangerous thing they do."

Texas Task Force members from Austin, Houston and Longview also took part in the training.

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