Lakewood OH

Area firefighters better prepared for Lake Erie rescue work after course

By Jeff Gallatin

Bay Village

Bay Village city officials are convinced there will be a positive ripple effect from the fire department recently having three members complete an advanced rescue swimmer course.

Bay Village firefighters Brandon Dimacchia, Tom Garuccio and Corey Gregg and Lakewood firefighters Gordie Polando and Jim Chaky spent most of last week at Huntington Beach in Bay Village, Clifton Beach in Lakewood and the Lakewood High School swimming pool learning from two national instructors a wide range of swimming safety and rescue techniques. The techniques are designed to aid them when area departments are alerted to swimmers in trouble in Lake Erie. The firefighters were scheduled for the course earlier this year, but it comes only a few weeks after Pete Radke of Medina died May 31 while trying to rescue a teenage girl who got in trouble in the Lake Erie waters near Huntington Beach.

Bay Village fire Chief Chris Lyons said there are short- and long-term benefits to the course.

“We’re going to have the three members who took the course and are now certified in it … teach all the other members of our department, so everybody in the department will end up being qualified in it,” he said. “I believe our department with this training can be a leader in the area for this kind of situation since we are so near the lake. But we also are more than willing to have our firefighters teach members of other nearby departments as well. It’s just going to be a matter of scheduling to get it all done. We want our city and the area itself to be ready in case of future emergencies in the lake – which I can pretty much guarantee there will be at some point since we’ve had several drownings in the lake in the last decade.”

Lyons, a member of the Bay Village Fire Department dive team that was disbanded several years ago, said having a department well-versed in swimming rescue is probably a better use of resources for the department.

“Having members who can go in the water and dive is useful, but with swimming rescue it means there is a chance that you can rescue someone with what you know,” he said. “With a dive team, it’s probably a situation where you are in a recovery mode, and you’re looking for a body.”

Lyons said having members of the department take the swimmer rescue course is logical for Bay Village.

“We have that big, beautiful body of water in Lake Erie right next to us,” he said. “But it’s a Great Lake, meaning it’s part of the largest and most unpredictable inland bodies of water in the world. And Lake Erie is one of the most unpredictable of them. Getting training in the best ways to rescue someone from there just makes sense.”

Mayor Debbie Sutherland was pleased.

“We’re better prepared as a city having firefighters qualified to respond in a lake rescue situation,” she said. “It’s a major benefit for Bay Village.”

One of the national instructors, Keegan Kozaki, a Howard County, Md., firefighter whose department is located near the Patuxent River and can go to the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean in a short period of time, said each large body of water is different.

“They all have different characteristics which you have to be aware of,” he said, “particularly when you’re going into the water in a rescue situation.”

Jerry Dunn, the other national instructor who was a longtime Jacksonville, Fla., firefighter, said the training should provide a crucial edge in an emergency situation.

“A swimming rescue is not just something you jump in the water and just do,” he said. “You have to be prepared when you go in that water. Unfortunately, we see and hear of situations of people going in the water who meant well, but weren’t ready for dealing with what they encountered.”

Both Kozaki and Dunn said they were impressed with the Bay Village and Lakewood firefighters.

“They are totally committed to doing their jobs and protecting their communities, you can see it (in) how they approached the course,” Kozaki said.

Dimacchia, who has spent 14 years in the Bay department, said the course is unique in his experience.

“I’ve taken a lot of training courses in my time here, and this one was the most fun but also the most grueling,” he said. “It had a lot involved in it, but all that information will help us in the long run because you never know exactly what type of situation you’ll run into out there.”

Polando, a captain in the Lakewood Fire Department, said working with firefighters outside your own department is beneficial.

“We learned a lot from the course and will apply it (to) our own department,” he said. “But, it also helps because we learned about the Bay firefighters and they learned about us. Not only will it help us in a lake rescue situation, but we all learned how the other guys react and do things. That will help in any situation where our departments are together.”

Garuccio, who is in his third year with the Bay department, said getting a major training course is a boost for any firefighter and/or paramedic.

“We have to be prepared for a lot of situations, and this one covered a lot of territory,” he said. “We have to be able to react to a situation as quickly as possible and this will help us do it, as individuals as well as a department.”

Lyons said he sees the $3,600 the city spent on the training for firefighters as a wise investment.

“It will pay off for us and the area,” he said, “because it will help us save a life someday.”




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