NC swift water rescue teams train for scenarios like Hurricane Matthew

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WNCN) – As Hurricane Matthew unleashed its wrath on North Carolina, many people were left in desperate need of rescue as rapidly rising waters threatened homes and businesses.

Swift water rescue teams from across the country jumped into action and saved countless lives across the state.


But how do these rescuers train for these types of scenarios?

Hundreds have been trained at the U.S. Whitewater Center in Charlotte.

Aaron Peeler, swift water rescue instructor, said students must learn the dynamics of the river and to assess the water.

Rescuers then learn how to use those river dynamics to their advantage.

“Then we’re also teaching them, of course, how to rescue victims in fast and simple methods. And then we’re working into slow and complex methods,” Peeler said.

The water at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte mimics what these rescuers face in real-life situations but in a controlled environment, allowing them to accurately assess dangers on the river.

“The first time they take a class, it’s about survival mode. It’s like, ‘How am I going to survive and breathe in this situation?’ And we’re trying to get them comfortable in the water and understand how to utilize it to their advantage,” Peeler said.

Their training is demanding – both physically and mentally.


“Personally, I like pushing my limits and this definitely pushes my limits,” said Quinci Donahue, ER nurse and rescue squad volunteer.

In addition to saving victims, these rescuers are also battling themselves.

“you’re always trying to do what’s best for the patient but you also have to look out for yourself so you really kind of take all of that into account,” said Matthew O’Rourke, EMT and rescue squad volunteer. “You have a few seconds to make a decision sometimes so you just fall back onto your training and hopefully that prepares you for what you need to do.”

And relying on their training in dangerous environments.

“In an urban flood environment like we saw with Matthew, you can have all types of chemicals in the water, fossil fuels, all types of animals, insects,” Peeler said.

So students are prepared for all types of rescue situations.

“It’s a good but terrifying feeling. Your adrenaline is pumping but, you know, that’s why you fall back to your training,” said Callie Douthat, EMT and rescue squad volunteer.

Over the last 10 years, the U.S. National Whitewater Center has trained more than 1,200 of North Carolina’s fire-rescue and military personnel for swift water rescue.

The courses offered are also available for anyone interested in learning how to properly deal with water hazards and emergencies.

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