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South Hills

Jefferson Hills firefighters begin swift-water rescue training

| Tuesday, July 24, 2018, 11:42 a.m.

Recent flooding has prompted Jefferson Hills firefighters to begin training for swift water rescue. The move, which includes the purchase of a specialized rescue boat along with dry suits, helmets and life jackets, will provide borough firefighters with the tools needed to rescue people in flooded waters. “The last couple of storms we’ve had, we’ve gotten a considerable amount of rain that led to flooding,” said Brian Chalfant, president of Jefferson Hills Fire Rescue and assistant chief of the Jefferson Hills 885 Volunteer Fire Company. The borough typically relies on Elizabeth Borough and Glassports swift water rescue teams to respond when someone is trapped in rising waters. However, with recent rains, they’ve been busy rescuing people in their own communities. When that happens, Jefferson Hills has to contact the Allegheny County 911 center and seek help from the closest available team.

On June 11, Jefferson Hills firefighters responded to 22 calls of flooding in two and half hours, Chalfant said. One of those was a physical rescue, where a man drove into flooded waters.

Jefferson Hills firefighters had to go in and make the rescue. “We carry life jackets and training bags, but we don’t have the dry suits and the boat and the extra training,” Chalfant said. Jefferson Hills firefighters began talking about training for swift water rescue after that, Chalfant said. Then, less than two weeks later, another storm hit.

Cochran Mill Road was flooded and a 911 call came in that a father and his two teenage daughter needed rescued. All of the roads to the area were flooded and they didn’t have a boat to get to them. “We were pretty much helpless,” Chalfant said.

“Every angle we tried to get to them was blocked by flooded waters.” Glassport firefighters, on their way to another call, overheard the call in Jefferson and began to respond.

However, the father was able to get himself and his daughters out on their own, Chalfant said. Weather patterns in the area are changing, Chalfant said.

“Wet seasons are getting wetter,” he said. “For the last several months, it seems like everytime we get a bad rain there’s flooding.” All of this prompted Jefferson Hills firefighters to train for swift water rescue.

The initial cost of the equipment, which also will include a trailer to haul the boat and a motor, along with specialized dry suits and equipment for eight firefighters, will cost nearly $32,000.

Jefferson Hills Borough Council agreed to pay for the initial equipment purchase.

“During several recent water emergencies, we had to rely on help from surrounding communities and their swift water personnel and rescue equipment,” Council President Chris King said in a statement from the borough. “We realize the importance of having our own trained personnel and equipment to help keep our community safe in future emergencies.”

Chalfant said this is just the start. Firefighters will apply for grants to get more equipments.

They also must go through training — which starts with a four hour water awareness course from the Fish & Boat Commission.

Training is open to any firefighter in all three Jefferson Hills volunteer fire companies, Chalfant said. Other training will include water rescue and emergency response, advanced line systems, boat operations and in the winter ice rescue.

Each course is 16 hours. With this, Jefferson Hills will also be able to assist other communities when they have flooding, just like those communities assist Jefferson Hills, Chalfant said.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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