Union County Interagency Swiftwater Rescue Team adds four new craft to its fleet

UNION COUNTY – The Union County Interagency Swiftwater Rescue Team, which comprises staff from the Union County Search and Rescue (SAR) team, Union County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol team, along with the La Grande Fire Department, recently added four new watercrafts to its fleet. Already training with the new equipment, the boats will provide valuable transport and rescue capabilities for the team.

The craft in question include two two-person inflatable whitewater kayaks, one NRS ASR 155 rescue boat (including accessories and equipment) along with a 12-foot inflatable oar boat. The two kayaks and the NRS ASR 155 boat were purchased by Union County Emergency Services using grant funding, while the oar boat was donated by a member of the public and its equipment donated by SAR volunteers. Union County Emergency Manager Nick Vora described the new craft as follows:

“The inflatable kayaks are just what they sound like – stable, high-flotation kayaks capable of transporting two people.  The ASR 155 is essentially an extremely large and stable kayak-type craft that is purpose-built for water rescue and will be an incredible asset to the team. This boat is highly specialized for rescue use with high-strength attachment points for rope systems, open ends to ease loading patients, lots of grab handles, and a rigid, flat floor.  The 12-foot oar-boat will be highly useful for extended operations on rivers and instances where patients or equipment need to be transported for a distance.”

Already, the Swiftwater Rescue Team are getting acquainted with the boats, conducting a shake-down run along the Grande Ronde River on Sunday May 12. Team members primarily set out to test and familiarize themselves with the new craft and train with the new equipment, such as operating the ASR 155 with different personnel and loading configurations, though there was some practice undertaken on swiftwater rescue technician skills during the excursion. The county swiftwater rescue team conducts rescue training roughly once a month as conditions (and waterflow) allow, often collaborating with the Bureau of Land Management and Wallowa County Search and Rescue.

Sunday’s training also turned out to be an unintentional public training event, being interrupted by a train. Stopping by an island in the river to eat lunch, the team were greeted by the sight of the Eagle Cap Excursion train cruising by. The overlap was, according to Vora, total coincidence.

Of course, training such as this, and even access to the new equipment in question, wouldn’t be possible without the support of the Union County community and the incredible dedication of local SAR and EMS staff and volunteers. Maintaining a well-equipped and well-organized interagency emergency team is no easy task, especially one specialized in water rescue. As best put by Vora:

“A combined team of volunteer and career staff from SAR, marine patrol, and a municipal fire department is incredibly valuable but also rare due to all the administrative hurdles that need to be cleared and time commitments made for it to be possible. In many other rural areas, water rescue teams either don’t exist because individual agencies don’t have the resources to independently staff and equip a team, or, where financial and staff resources do exist, different standard operating guidelines, communications, equipment, and policies between independent teams can lead to substantial challenges with coordinated responses. I think our Union County team is a great example and reflection of the cooperation and coordination between agencies that we benefit from, and that is really a blessing to our county.”