The new Riversport Rapids along the Oklahoma River were built with entertainment partially in mind. However, they're being utilized now to also save lives. I suited up with the Oklahoma City Fire Department to go on the first of its kind water rescue training.
With a go-pro camera on, I got a chance to document first-hand the latest in water rescue training because the reality is - they happen every year. In fact, just last year Oklahoma City firefighters responded to 131 calls to rescue people in water - some clinging on for dear life. While training is nothing new, using the rapids to learn the techniques is. It turns out; Oklahoma City's new Riversport Rapids is actually the perfect training ground for water rescues.
"It makes it more realistic," said Major Greg Merrell with the Oklahoma City Fire Department. "It's something different, they can switch up the scenario for us with the blue blocks, which causes different waves and we can move those, so it's different training every time we come out."
The drills start off relatively easy, learning how to do a defensive entry. Once that's mastered, it's on to how to rescue people using a raft. On this particular day, 28 Oklahoma City Firefighters - and one reporter - are also learning what to do if the raft flips over. They'll train monthly and I was about to learn why they go through so much training. When it comes to rushing water, it doesn't take a lot to toss you about.
"This is fast moving and very realistic to what we'll face," said Bo Woodard, an Oklahoma City firefighter.
The firefighters are taught how to maneuver through it. You should always keep your feet up so they don't get caught on anything. And as the water comes crashing into your face, remember to breathe. That's much easier said than done. And as they practice tossing out the rescue rope, I learn just how grateful I am to see it. These firefighters train five days about 48 hours, just this time around and as we know not every rescue happens during the daytime which is why they also train at night.
"Visibility obviously is a lot more diminished what might take us 30 minutes to do something in daylight more than likely is going to take you close to 60 minutes at night time," said Woodard.
And day or night, Riversport Rapids is letting them train; free of charge, so they can be ready just in case we need them.
"We hope they don't get into this environment where they need to be rescued but if they do, we want to be well trained for it," said Major Merrell.
The Rapids isn't just going to be used for Oklahoma City Firefighters. They say rescuers from across the state and country are already planning on coming here for their own training.