Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute partners with Kansas Rowing for customized water safety course


Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute technical rescue instructors trained coaches from Kansas Rowing, Kansas Crew and the University of Kansas diving team, as well as local lifeguards, on lifesaving rescue techniques for the Kansas River.

Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute partners with Kansas Rowing for customized water safety course

On Aug. 17, Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute (KFRTI) technical rescue program instructors trained coaches from Kansas Rowing, Kansas Crew and the University of Kansas diving team, as well as local lifeguards, on lifesaving rescue techniques for the Kansas River. The course began at 8 a.m. in the Kansas Rowing Boathouse with an in-classroom introduction before the 15 participants hit the river to perform rescue exercises. 

Rowing and other water sports come with inherent risk. To increase the safety of her team, Kansas Rowing Head Coach Carrie Cook-Callen enlisted the help of her colleagues at KFRTI’s technical rescue program for a water safety course. KFRTI – a unit of KU Lifelong & Professional Education – responded with a specifically tailored course for these “first responders” in the water.

Course participants repack safety throw bags between evolutions.
Course participants repack safety throw bags between evolutions. 

KFRTI contract instructor, Chief Bryan Welch, a battalion chief with Kansas City Kansas Fire Department, led the instruction. He and his team took the class routinely taught to firefighters and amended it to rowing in the Kansas River after in-depth research, preparation and collaboration.

“I’m proud of the work our team did to provide this valuable, unique course as we fulfill our mission to promote health and safety in Kansas communities,” said KFRTI Director Kelly McCoy. “I’m also very proud of all the participants. They worked extremely hard, and their teams will be comforted to know the increased level of safety when they hit the water.”

Participants practiced pulling individuals out of the water, throwing safety bags, tossing safety ropes and hand signals. They practiced rescue scenarios – from drowning to heat exhaustion and unconsciousness – as well as the speed and needs of these rescues.

Class participants practice safety bag throws in front of the Kansas Boathouse.
Class participants practice safety bag throws in front of the Kansas Boathouse.

“We’ve talked about rescue scenarios, but we’ve never practiced and learned as much as we did in this course” Cook-Callen said. “We gained a lot of practical experience that’s applicable today. I’m really pleased with the way this turned out. It was a powerful collaboration between the two units.”

Cook-Callen spoke to the value of KFRTI’s translation of their techniques they use in real-world rescue situations to this audience. Coaches used their own equipment in the same area of the river where they’re used to rowing. This allowed them to improve their emergency action protocol while in action, take inventory of their safety equipment, see what they need and make the most out of what they have.

KU lifeguard throws a safety bag to a “victim.”
KU lifeguard throws a safety bag to a “victim.” 

“We are far better equipped, educated and prepared,” Cook-Callen said. “This course allowed for more forward thinking in how we better prepare instead of learning by review of past incidents. As a coach, I feel better prepared than ever, and I’ve been doing this for a while. The Kansas River and the Kansas Boathouse are much safer after this.”

And this is just the beginning. Cook-Callen said she hopes to do this training annually and open it up to the regional rowing community as another component to annual safety trainings, such as CPR and other certifications and reviews.

About the Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute
The Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute (KFRTI) was created in 1949 by Kansas law to provide training for the Kansas Fire Service. The Institute is a dynamic organization providing training services through a "Mobile Fire Academy" concept. This concept is designed to accommodate local needs through training delivered anytime, anyplace or anywhere in Kansas. KFRTI is a unit of University of Kansas Lifelong & Professional Education.

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