As boating season comes into full swing, it’s more important than ever that Missouri first responders are trained appropriately to act on accidents in the water. 

Troopers from around the state gathered at Pomme de Terre Dam near Hermitage, Missouri to train and become certified in Swift Water Rescue. Troopers from Jefferson City, the Lake of the Ozarks and Springfield were present. This training consists of four days of learning to maneuver rescue boats through tough currents, swimming and controlling the body in water and securing boat owners in a potential crash scenario. 

Water was released from the dam into the nearby river to provide the trainees with a high speed current to work with. Lt. Michael Petlansky was present at the training. He had previously completed the course and is level two certified in Swift Water Rescue. He explained that the water being pushed out of the dam was coming at a rate of 1,500 cubic feet per second. Petlansky says this situational training condition is appropriate to truly become comfortable with real-life accidents and currents. 

Training officers Dave Echternacht and Kurt Merseal led the practices and have each been certified themselves. Echternacht says an important lesson to learn at these training sessions is to respect the power of the water. He says finding controlled conditions like what was present at Pomme de Terre Dam are rare, making this opportunity ideal. 

“It’s difficult for us to have water like this to work with,” Echternacht said. “We have a great staff working with the trainees, but the water conditions are most critical.” 

Fourteen students and eight instructors were present at the session by Merseal’s count. He was a main contributor to the in-water exercise, which saw trainees jump straight into the current with floating gear on. This was done to demonstrate how one should relax and flow with the current in various situations. Merseal was exceptionally calm in this, stating that he had run the exercise “around 500 times at this point.” 

Merseal says that these situations are designed with the intent of an emotional response to the actions at hand. He says the trainers want all involved to be uncomfortable and react to the training experiences as realistically as possible to mirror the feelings of a real crash or incident. 

Petlansky says that when he was first introduced to this training, it was certainly a scary idea and took time to relax. By the end of his training, he says he felt fully prepared and better for it.

“My first time was scary,” Petlansky said. “You just look down at that 20 foot drop. After you do it though, it becomes second nature. I’m glad this learning opportunity is available.”