SEAVIEW — A callout came over Washington’s Pacific County Dispatch just after 6 p.m. Monday. Five people had been spotted in the water south of the Seaview approach.
“This will be a drill,” the dispatcher said.
The all-volunteer South Pacific County Technical Rescue, a nonprofit founded in 1978, has practiced such scenarios for the past quarter century, a precursor to the summer season when tourists descend on the Long Beach Peninsula, and some inevitably fall prey to the Pacific Ocean.
Within several minutes of the call, local first responders rolled down the beach approach on 38th Place to where the call was made. Rescue team members unloaded their personal watercraft and towed them into the surf. The teams of rescuers — one driver and two clinging to a rescue board — take off into the waves to retrieve the U.S. Coast Guardsmen from Station Cape Disappointment and the National Motor Lifeboat School. They volunteered as victims dumped from 47-foot motor lifeboats offshore.
By 6:40 p.m., all five of the people had been pulled from the water and laid out at a field triage unit set up on the beach by local emergency responders. They were labeled by color in varying stages of injury, from anaphylactic shock caused by jellyfish stings to severe burns from an engine fire.
The volunteers gathered afterward to debrief in a nearby fire station. Doug Knutzen, the technical rescue team’s president and member since 1985, said the operation was a success. He thanks the volunteers for coming down and hopes for a summer without any rescues.
According to an analysis by the Chinook Observer in 2014, there have been more than 70 rescues and 10 fatalities along the Long Beach Peninsula since 2001, many in late summer.
Bobbi Pulsifer, a local dispatcher observing the exercise, was on duty for more than 20 rescue-related calls last year; six or seven of them legitimate emergencies. She said calls often start with tourists who are unaware of their location.
“We can’t stress enough the importance of where are you,” she said. “People need to know where they are.”
Knutzen stressed the importance of callers staying where they are and keeping an eye on who or whatever they see in the water to help direct rescuers at the scene.
Rescuers have erected signs and run yearly awareness campaigns along Long Beach, advising people against swimming in the ocean, which hides underwater drop-offs and rip currents that can drag someone several hundred yards out to sea.
Last summer, a 25-year-old woman from Seattle disappeared while swimming in the ocean at night and she has never been found. A 12-year-old girl from Warrenton was pulled 500 yards offshore before being found by the Coast Guard. She later died at Ocean Beach Hospital.
“We can’t stop anyone from going in the water,” said Eduardo Mendez, a local firefighter and member of the rescue team since 1999. “We’re not cops.”
He said rescuers try to educate as many visitors as they can, while staying ready to rescue those who run into trouble in the water.