Pacific County Fire District No. 1 personnel

During a drill this month Pacific County Fire District No. 1 personnel make sure one of the six “victims” from the U.S. Coast Guard is as comfortable as can be when soaking wet and laying on a rescue backboard.

During Emergency Medical Services Week, it is fitting to salute all those in our Long Beach Peninsula community who are trained and ready to respond to any crisis with skilled professionalism.

We are especially fortunate that we are protected by the fine personnel, paid and volunteer, at Pacific County Fire District No. 1, Long Beach and Ilwaco fire departments.

Medix Ambulance staff work closely with them to ensure a level of care. And professional staff at Ocean Beach Hospital are ready for emergency-call patients to be treated 24/7.

These folks handle calls year-round and their service should be saluted (and not just this one week!).

There is another group of folks who dedicate their lives to keeping our beaches safe who are entirely volunteer. Yet when we need them, they respond.

Last week’s drill featuring local fire districts and law enforcement agencies showcased the skills of the South Pacific County Technical Rescue Team.

It is no secret to locals that our beautiful Pacific Ocean can be a treacherous place. Despite repeated warnings to visitors about the danger lurking amid that beauty, every year there are people who underestimate the waves and the under tow and get into trouble.

That’s when rescue team members don their wetsuits and crank out their watercraft.

Last week’s drill was a model in cooperation, marred by one or two minor communication glitches, but nothing serious.

Agencies whose jurisdictional boundaries and missions sometimes differ were able to work together to achieve a positive outcome. As a drill, they knew more or less what was expected, but all approached it with appropriate seriousness and professionalism.

This time the people in the water were six bright U.S. Coast Guard recruits who volunteered to be “victims” for an unusual break from their regular intensive training.

Next time it will be one or more civilians in genuine distress.

One point that came out of discussions among senior personnel on the Seaview beach and also at the debriefing is worth sharing.

If you observe what appears to be a person in distress in the ocean and call 911, you must stay at the location and watch for responders’ rigs.

That’s because early arriving rescuers from fire departments and law enforcement agencies need to know what they are looking for — and where.

Both Doug Knutzen, long-time leader of the surf rescuers, and Lt. Jessica Shafer, U.S. Coast Guard commander at Cape Disappointment, made that the single most important take-away from the drill.

Knowing how many people are in the water — and being able to locate them — are the thoughts uppermost in the minds of responders as they unpack their rescue gear. No one wants to call off a rescue until all missing people are accounted for.

The surf rescue volunteers are a remarkable group whose members deserve a significant pat on the back for their service. The time they donate to our community is priceless.

The organization’s leaders undertake to train them in return for knowing that when the siren sounds, they will be available, and physically and mentally prepared to mount a jet ski and speed out into the surf.

In years back, they swam out to rescue people. In more recent decades, the acquisition of personal watercraft has eased that need, while doing nothing to lessen the courage it takes to perform their duties.

It takes all sorts to create a positive community. We are especially fortunate to have this dedicated group.

In an ideal world, locals and visitors alike would heed the repeated warnings about the dangers of the ocean and never need to be rescued. But, as Knutzen noted, an entire summer without the surf team launching into the waves is unlikely.

So, it is comforting to know that when the siren sounds, these fine folks are trained, ready and able to answer the call.

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