Area firefighters hone swift-water rescue skills

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TEMPLE, Texas (KWTX) Firefighters from Waco, Temple, Killeen and Fort Hood took advantage of the rain-swollen Leon River Tuesday to hone their swift-water rescue skills.

(Photo by Chelsea Edwards)

"The rivers are at max capacity, the lakes are at max capacity, there's nowhere for water to go," Killeen Fire Battalion Chief Phillip Bannister said.

Water is being released into the river from Lake Belton and the firefighters have been spending days and nights practicing in the rushing water.

The Killeen Fire Department has been building its water rescue team for the past twelve years, even going off to test currents in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

But real-life rescue efforts may require cooperation between departments in neighboring cities.

"When we start searching this river all the way down and start branching out, we need secondary safeties, we need upstream spotters, downstream spotters, and that's just not something one department can cover," Bannister said.

The firefighters have to be prepared physically for the conditions they may encounter and the challenges they may face, including pulling people out of swift water and sinking vehicles, Killeen Fire Department water rescue instructor Trent Parker said.

"It's one of the reasons y'all have seen so many of the basic skills, like just throwing a rope from the shoreline, swimming after someone,” he said.

“We start there; we end in the boats."

The Temple Fire Department is expecting to get its first boat for its water rescue team by the end of June.