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Swiftwater Rescue Awareness- Every Responder’s Business

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   The CDC cites floods as the number one natural disaster. They may build slowly over days of heavy rain, or strike quickly when a dam breaks. Floods arise near water bodies such as lakes and rivers, but also can occur in the dry river beds of the desert. Flash floods alone, according to the NOAA National Weather Service, kill an average of 78 people in the United States every year.

   In 1979, Rescue 3 International began teaching Swiftwater and Rope Rescue courses to boots on the ground, responder to responder. Since Mike Turnbull and his wife purchased Rescue 3 in 1990, Rescue 3 has become an accrediting agency that “trains the trainer,” offers classes in over 50 countries, and has trained 200,000 students globally. The goal? Consistent skill sets to allow responders to perform the same techniques whether in the USA, Europe, or Japan. Training manuals and materials are available in 10 languages, and the courses teach a set of standard hand signals that allow communication between rescuers regardless of native tongue. Rescue 3 has grown into the “800 pound gorilla in water rescue.” Swiftwater rescue is a specialized skill, one that needs to be sustained, and if personnel are not trained, a minimum level of awareness of the dangers of rescue in the water should be taught.

   Rescue 3’s mission is simple. Train responders, whether EMS, Fire, LEO, or SAR, to know when specialized rescue is needed, and either call that team or become a trained water rescuer. Responder lives are at risk when they discount the danger, read the water incorrectly, or attempt a rescue without the equipment and expertise required. It is imperative that every responder knows when NOT to go into the water. To facilitate this training, the Awareness course, covering NFPA 1670 Awareness (Water & Rope), is now available online for individual training at The cost is $65.00, and upon completing the course and passing an exam, personnel are certified at the first level of Swiftwater Rescue training.

   After Awareness certification, Operations level and Technician level courses are available. As an accrediting body, Rescue 3 reviews and updates curriculum and certification for these courses every three years. This ensures that new techniques and equipment are incorporated. This year a new certification, the Swiftwater Recovery Specialist, will be offered to certify responders who recover bodies and “bring comfort and closure to families.” For responders interested in Water Rescue certifications, training ranges from Basic Water First Responder for rescue in lakes or other non-moving water to the Whitewater Rescue Technician 2 certification, which focuses on advanced skills used in or around the water on a daily basis. For agency Command Level Personnel, the Management of Water and Flood Incidents course gives Incident Commanders the skills required to manage water incident operations. Courses can be held at your location. For a list of current and upcoming courses, covering not only Swiftwater Rescue but other technical rope rescue training, visit

   The popularity of Swiftwater rescue training seems to ebb and flow with the number of water emergencies in a jurisdiction. The level of sustainment and currency required causes some agencies to shrink or even disband a team when the number of calls seems insufficient to justify the time and costs. While the decision to not maintain a full team is often based on resources, water rescue is not a niche. Personnel in every agency should be trained to the Awareness level. While floods occur more frequently in some areas than others, there will be floods, and you will be called to respond. Mike points out, “Since 1979 we have trained 200,000 students, but there are millions of responders.”

   This month assess your department’s ability to respond safely. If you do not have an organic Swiftwater Rescue team, take a moment to confirm that the agency that does is still active and still has currently certified rescuers. For department or agency training needs contact Rescue 3 at or call 1 (800) 457 - 3728.

In October, from the 8th to the 25th, Rescue 3 will hold an 18 day Technical Rescue Academy. For information and to download a brochure visit

To bring community awareness about the dangers of floods and information on flood preparedness, you can direct everyone to

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