The Spokane Valley Fire Department’s swift-water rescue team has a new inflatable boat to help pluck boaters and swimmers from the Spokane River.
“It’s basically two pontoons with a floor in the middle,” Battalion Chief Dennis Doyle said of the cataraft. “What we had been using before were inflatable kayaks. It’s a much more stable platform than the kayaks.”
During training last month, firefighters took turns learning how to maneuver the cataraft in the river while pulling fellow firefighters out of the water. The boat has room for two rescuers and two victims.
The inflatable kayaks have room for only one rescuer. It’s difficult for one person to maneuver the kayak while also pulling someone out of the water, Doyle said – even more so if the person is unable to help get themselves inside the kayak.
Last year the department responded to numerous calls for help on the river and performed two rescues. In one case, two people became stranded on a rock when they realized they were too tired to return to shore through the cold water. In the other, a father and son were found clinging to trees to avoid being swept downstream. “Those guys were in bad shape,” Doyle said. “They basically just got thrown across the kayak, half in and half out.”
The cataraft is higher off the water, which makes it easier to search for people, he said. “Really there’s no negative to this,” he said. “Right now with this high water it’s a great tool for rescue and search both.”
Capt. Mark Knokey spent some time on the new boat during training. “You control it with two oars,” he said. “You can get across the river pretty easily.”
The cataraft is “far superior” to the kayaks for rescues, Knokey said. “Kayaks are more nimble and maneuverable, but that makes them more tippy,” he said.
The department has converted an old brush truck to haul the kayaks and cataraft to river rescue calls. “Our shop did a few modifications and it’s actually a great transport vehicle,” Doyle said. The truck is based at the Sullivan Fire Station.