This page highlights how PPE purchased with an AFG grant saved lives. This page is intended for fire departments and nonaffiliated Emergency Medical Service organizations (EMS).
Swiftwater Rescue PPE is Purchased to Save Lives in New HampshireWhen Hurricane Irene hit in August 2011, the rivers near Conway Fire Department were greatly affected. Conway, New Hampshire and nearby Mount Washington Valley are huge vacation areas, boasting over 9 campgrounds, many hotels and inns, and popular swimming and boating areas. Year-round residents live in older homes, and tourist-based business like hotels and restaurants tend to have poor paying jobs which makes for a lower median income for the year-round residents. Due to a small tax base and a recently failed water and sewer project, voters in the area don’t have the necessary funds to support the fire department’s needs. Luckily, the Conway Fire Department was approved for a 2012 grant request for $25,530 for Swiftwater Rescue PPE to combat the continually rising waters emphasized by the tropical storm.
“New Hampshire is very much a tourist area with two rivers that we’re responsible for,” said Stephen Solomon, Chief of Conway Fire Department. Solomon said it was known that their training wasn’t up to par and their equipment was dangerously old, but responding to Irene made it more obvious.
“Tropical Storm Irene caused our rivers to go beyond flooding,” he said. “We had 22 rescues with incomplete training and outdated equipment.” Solomon notes that they had no fatalities, but that the effects from the storm shed light on their lack of readiness and pushed them to seek funding.
The AFG Grant helped the department purchase 20 sets of Swiftwater Rescue PPE, which included dry suits, boots, gloves, helmets, jackets, throw bags and fins. All of these items are designed for rescue. Although they were not approved for training, Homeland Security and NH Fire Standards and Training came together to provide Conway with training for themselves and other departments.
““The PPE from this grant allowed our personnel to go into higher rescue situations safely,” said Solomon. “Since receiving the grant, we’ve rescued 11 people.”One of those rescues even made the local news. In July, local ABC affiliate WMUR9 reported the story of a 14-year old boy who was swept downstream and rescued by Conway Fire Department. He was clinging to a rock and was rescued just above the lower falls. The video can be seen by visiting this link: //www.wmur.com/news/14yearold-rescued-at-lower-falls-in-conway/34263844.
Some Swiftwater rescues are routine and present minimal risk, like throwing ropes from shore, but some cases of rescue are extreme. Many of their rescue swimmers have to navigate through Class IV rapids, either by free swimming or by a rope system.“The PPE we got from this grant goes a long way to allow our firefighters to enter those situations and make those rescues. Not having it would have put our firefighters at greater risk…or they simply would not have been able to do it.” Solomon and the Conway Fire Department received the grant money in February 2013, and then received the PPE between April and June. With the PPE from the AFG and the related training from Homeland Security, the department was able to train 20 of its own firefighters. They were also able to host Swiftwater Rescue I and II Training classes and now offer similar training classes through NIMS, which is accessible by anyone in the state. Conway is also working with other departments in New Hampshire to promote Swiftwater Rescue and Flood training. Given that flooding is New Hampshire’s number one risk, Solomon and his team are putting together a Swiftwater Rescue Working Group to address flooding issues across the state. Conway is one of six Swiftwater Rescue teams in New Hampshire, and is able to loan out the grant-funded PPE as needed to other departments. Solomon says receiving the PPE through the AFG Funds has helped them help others.
“We’re doing our best to help other neighbors who don’t have those resources.”