— West Seattle Blog (@westseattleblog) July 25, 2017
10:44 AM: If you’re anywhere near Alki and noticing the Guardian One helicopter over a Seattle Fire fireboat – it’s not a rescue, it’s a drill. This is part of a demonstration SFD has been putting on for us and the citywide media this past half-hour, showcasing the new SFD “rescue swimmer” program. Lots of photos, video, and info to come!
11:24 AM: The demonstration is over and we’re back at headquarters. SFD explains that this new program is meant to bridge the gap between a regular response and deployment of the Dive Team (which is based in SODO), but is not replacing any existing components or units – this is an addition, as explained by SFD Deputy Chief Ron Mondragon:
SFD says 38 firefighters are now trained as “rescue swimmers,” and the department’s goal is to have at least nine on duty in each 24-hour period, stationed around the city – not just deployed via certain stations. They’ve been in training, including with the help of partners such as West Pierce Fire and Rescue (south of Tacoma), and officially launched these new duties as of last Wednesday. Whenever there’s a water-rescue response, dispatchers will ensure that two rescue swimmers are part of the response. They can deploy from almost anywhere/anything – boats, beaches, piers, rocky shorelines, etc.
Their gear, which also was explained at the demonstration, includes a yellow “marker buoy” they can deploy to help divers that follow them into the water, if applicable.
This is a pilot program, SFD says, that will be evaluated after a year.
Meantime, besides emergencies, their planned upcoming assignments include Seafair weekend on Lake Washington, when four teams of two swimmers will be on duty.