Oklahoma Guardsmen participate in water rescue training

An Oklahoma Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and crew conduct water rescue training over the Oklahoma River in Oklahoma City on Thursday. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Maj. Geoff Legler)

Maj. Geoff Legler

OKLAHOMA CITY — Members of the Oklahoma Army National Guard participated in water rescue training last week over the waters of the Oklahoma River here as part of a newly formed rescue task force.

Oklahoma Task Force One is composed of members of the Tulsa, Verdigris, Norman and Oklahoma City fire departments, along with members of the Oklahoma Army National Guard.

The task force’s firefighters are certified rescue divers and paramedics who filled the roles of flood victims and rescue swimmers during the exercise.

Oklahoma Army National Guard helicopters and guardsmen from Army Aviation Support Facility 1 in Tulsa and AASF 2 in Lexington spent most of the day hovering over the Oklahoma Riversport complex in Oklahoma City, hoisting rescue divers from the Oklahoma River.

Rescue Task Force

Task Force One, which officially began operations in October, specializes in rescuing civilians from deadly situations such as open and rapid water, lost hikers, collapsed trenches, and rooftop and post-natural-disaster rescues, among others.

“(We) are deployable during state/local emergencies and regional to national emergencies similar to what (is) seen during our flood season in the spring, (periods of) heavy storm impact, even up to the hurricanes that we’ve seen as recent as last year in Texas,” said Lt. Josh Pearcy, lead rescue swimmer for the Oklahoma City Fire Department.

Together, the firefighters and National Guard aviators make up what is known as an HSRT, or helicopter search and rescue team, which is overseen, funded and dispatched by Oklahoma’s Office of Emergency Management.

Practicing Rescue Techniques

For this exercise, the Oklahoma Army National Guard employed two UH-60 Black Hawk and two UH-72 Lakota helicopters. The aircrews, along with rescue divers, practiced open-water rescue techniques using both strop harnesses and rescue baskets.

Each rescue diver had the opportunity to play both the rescuer and the rescued and to rotate between each of the helicopters using both the harnesses and baskets.

“Next month we’ll be doing rapid-water training, and (for our) final culmination, we’d like to be doing rapid-water training at night, using night-vision goggles,” said Army Capt. Brandon Files, the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s liaison to Task Force One.