Ocean surf peels 'Big Banana' rescue craft here for trial run

<I>DAMIAN MULINIX photo</I><BR>Cleve Rooper, Art Doss, Gilberto Arciga and Kevin Miller practice rescuing a swimmer in the waters of Baker Bay, near the Ft. Canby boat launch Saturday. The group were trying out a new rescue device.

ILWACO, SEAVIEW - In the end, the "Oceanid" didn't quite live up to its name. The 15-foot inflatable water craft tested by area water rescue teams this weekend takes its name from Greek mythology as being "any of the ocean nymphs held to be the daughters of Oceanus and Tethys."

The device, jokingly called the "big banana," just didn't quite cut it in the Peninsula's crashing surf.

Cannon Beach and Lewis and Clark fire and rescue teams as well as members of Pacific County Fire District No. 1 joined the South Pacific County Technical Rescue Team [SPCTRT] Saturday to take part in a two-day test of the device.

Art Doss of American Rescue Technicians was acting as a "salesman of sorts," having the guys test it out to see if it could work for them and in turn buy the product. Lt. Mike Karvia met Doss while attending a fire rescue convention in central Oregon where Doss told him he would like to test the device in the surf.

"It was kind of a natural thing to come up and give it a try," said SPCTRT president Doug Knutzen. "And we were more then willing to do that."

The dozen or so rescue workers took to the calm water of Baker's Bay Saturday in order to get a feel for the device before taking it out on the surf the next day. The thought was that they could pull it behind the jet ski's they use for surf rescues, much the way they do now with the smaller, sturdier rescue boards. The device has been used for ice, lake, river and flood rescues.

"It works great on the ice," said Knutzen, "because you can just paddle across the ice and if it breaks, no big deal."

They practiced pulling each other out of the water using the classic pick-up methods of reaching out and pulling someone onboard the water craft. The device can hold up to four people at a time.

Knutzen said the Oceanid worked very well for what it was designed for, flat water, but found out on Sunday it doesn't cut it in the surf.

"The rescue device does not work as good as what we already have," he said. "It doesn't maneuver as well and that's a big point. We were unable to make our turns and get out of the way of the breakers like we'd like to be able to do. It's a little bit harder to work out of because you have to take somebody up over the sides."

He said that the people riding on the device Sunday took a "pretty good pounding out there," at some points being thrown from the device.

"If we got hit by a breaker just right, it would knock everybody out of the boat,"

Knutzen noted that the deployment time would slow them down as well, saying in the time it would take to get it ready, they could be in and out of the water already.

"We can be in the water in two minutes," he said. "The extra three to five minutes it's going to take to get this rescue device hooked up and configured the way we want it, we could have the person back on the beach."

Knutzen said Doss expressed an interest in working with the SPCTRT as they modify the Oceanid in the future, in hopes of someday having it available for this kind of use. Knutzen said he is up for that, and added the device could be useful for some large-scale rescues in ocean waters.

"If we had like a 747 go down off the beach, it would work in a situation like that," he said. "If you have a lot of people you need to float, it works well."

And this is not the first time that the team has tested experimental devices or procedures. Knutzen remembered that in the beginning, they started out swimming out to victims with ropes tied around their waists.

"We're constantly looking for better ways, new ways to do things better, quicker, faster, safer."

Knutzen said despite the failed attempt with the device, it was a good time of camaraderie between the different rescue teams.

"That's where you really learn something. That was worth the whole thing, whether the rescue device worked or not."

A busy summer for the Technical Rescue Team

The summer of 2003 was a busy one for the SPCTRT, responding to a total of 12 rescues. Three were fatalities.

"We feel we did fairly well," said Knutzen, "but we're still dealing with three people who lost their lives out there."

A dozen is about the yearly average for surf rescues locally, the number of fatalities fluctuating from year to year. With the outstanding weather this summer and many people on the beach and in the water because of it, Knutzen said he's happy that they didn't have more.

"It's always hard to keep them out of the water. That's where the education comes in."

One way the team is able to educate the public is by way of beach patrols during busy simmer days. The city of Long Beach has hired SPCTRT to do a beach patrol over 20 of the busiest days of the year for the last four years. Knutzen reported to the city council Monday night he felt the service was a success, saying it was a great opportunity to talk with many people on the beaches.

"We've made a lot of swimmer contacts, we made some good rescues," he summed up the summer. "I think it was a really good year. Everybody was really aware of the dangers and were really interested in being safe."

He said that the combination of patrols and the beach safety posters and brochures the team had made up earlier this year went a long way to ensuring the safety of many. They distributed over 700 posters and 100,000 brochures up and down the Peninsula.

"A lot of times we were handing them brochures saying, 'These are some of the things we want you to look out for' and they said 'Oh, I've already read it.'"

The SPCTRT will resume distributing the brochures to area business and motels in the spring.

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