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Students flip for swiftwater rescue course

Post Independent Photo/Kelley Cox
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS- One group of would-be rafters spent more time in the water than in the raft Sunday afternoon on the Colorado River.

Boaters dressed head to toe in neoprene or blue drysuits spent hours capsizing their raft, then righting it as quickly as they could. The group was learning the intricacies of how to handle a flipped raft as part of a swiftwater rescue class offered by Colorado Mountain College.

The course was taught by Bill Dvorak, the chief instructor for the Colorado region for Rescue III International, an organization that trains rescuers and rescue educators about swiftwater rescue. Dvorak also owns Dvorak Expeditions, a rafting company based on the Arkansas River near Salida.



By the end of the course, which ran Friday to Sunday, students were qualified as either a whitewater rescue technician or a swiftwater rescue technician I, said Dvorak.

He said that the goal of the course was to “drown-proof” rescuers.



“We try to show people the kinds of technical equipment they need,” he said, adding that students learned how to read and swim the river.

The class was open to anyone, but about half of the 11 students were Garfield County Search and Rescue volunteers.

“We learn how to make an effective rescue with very minimal equipment,” said Bob Smith of New Castle and a member of Garfield County Search and Rescue.

Kevin Wasli of Glenwood, also of Garfield County Search and Rescue, said the course was not required for Search and Rescue members, but many members were using it to become certified swiftwater rescue technicians.

After the class Search and Rescue will have about eight trained swiftwater rescue technicians, said Wasli.

Recreational boaters took part as well.

Donna Linnecke of Basalt is a river runner and wanted to be safer on the river.

“I wanted to contribute something to the group I boat with,” she said.

Heidi McCulough, a Carbondale kayaker, shared that goal.

“Kayakers have a lot of responsibility,” she said, noting that in the event of a river accident, kayaks are the quickest and most mobile vessel to assist with a rescue.

The group spent Friday inside, listening to lectures and watching videos.

After that, the class was a hands-on experience. Saturday’s and Sunday’s classes were 10 hours long and spent almost entirely in the river, said Mike Mosby of Rifle, another Garfield County Search and Rescue volunteer.

Though most students enjoyed the course, all recognized that the skills they were learning are not to be taken lightly.

“If you own a boat or go on private trips, you should take a class like this,” said McCulough.

“It’s fun, but it’s not all play,” she said. “The river is very serious.”

Contact Ryan Graff: 945-8515, ext. 535

rgraff@postindependent.com


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