At the heart of the buzz are two new Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) water rescue trucks. The vehicles were custom-built in Winnipeg, designed around city water rescue technicians’ own wish list of features.
Deputy WFPS chief Tom Wallace played the role of the victim in the exercise, bobbing in the Red River current until a water rescue team arrived to "save" him. (Not that he was in danger: Wallace was wearing a dry suit and life vest.)
After returning to dry land, Wallace praised the new vehicles. Each year, WFPS helps rescue about 200 people from Winnipeg’s waterways, and the deputy chief said the new vehicles will give rescuers the right tools for the job.
"It’s really going to take our water rescue program to another level," he said.
So, what makes the new trucks so special? Each one costs $534,000 and is equipped with a variety of bells and whistles, including an automated rescue boat platform and a mechanism to auto-inflate ice rescue equipment.
The WFPS’s previous water rescue units required firefighters to inflate ice rescue equipment with an air pump.
What’s more, in the old trucks, rescuers had to change in and out of their dry suits in unheated compartments — a particularly miserable experience in -30 C winter weather. The new trucks have an illuminated and heated changing space.
All told, the new trucks will help get rescue boats set up and into the water up to 75 per cent faster, says WFPS water rescue co-ordinator Raj Sharma. And in a real-life water emergency, every minute matters.
"This is a vast improvement over what we were operating on before," Sharma said. "It used to be a... a lot more physically demanding, and physically dangerous at times as well.
"Now, we can operate a lot more safely," he added. "We can operate much more quickly. It’s safer for our rescuers, and we should be able to save more lives in the process."
Usually, trucks such as this have an active service life of 15 years, before being retired to serve as spare vehicles for five years. But the old units date back to the 1980s, Sharma said.
Five WFPS members, including Sharma, were part of the committee that oversaw the development of the units, which were built by Fort Garry Fire Trucks. The consultation and manufacturing process took about 18 months.
"There isn’t a template for a unit like this," he said. "We did a lot of research before we even started the process. There’s not another city as far as we know that has a unit exactly like this, so we kind of had to start from square one."
Read more by Melissa Martin.