Last December, my son Grant and I joined Sacramento’s Drowning Accident Rescue Team (DART). On May 13th, we were certified as Swift Water Rescue Technicians. It was a tough course, but a lot of fun and very rewarding.
It all started when I was having lunch with one of our engineers and I spoke about my son who had decided to change his career path to law enforcement. Grant and I had been certified in open water diving to support his previous career path of marine biology. The engineer I was speaking with had been a member of DART years ago and suggested my son look into the organization since many of the members have historically been law enforcement or other first responders.
My son went to a DART meeting and came home very excited, suggesting I also attend a meeting as well; DART also needed boat operators and as an experienced boater on the local Sacramento rivers, I had experience to offer the team. After attending a meeting, I was also hooked on the idea of joining DART. I have enormous respect for first responders, enjoy helping people, plus this was something I could do with my son.
Since we joined DART, we have been training on shore support, preparation, cleanup, etc. We had to get certified on the National Incident Management System (NIMS) with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). We have trained on black water diving, which uses different equipment than divers typically use: dry suite, full face mask, communicator, etc. With black water diving (blackwater means little or no visibility under the water), you train using search patterns. In addition, we have to meet rigorous minimum physical requirements, such as a watermanship test, which included a 500-yard swim, a 150-yard victim tow, treading water for 15 minutes and retrieving heavy objects from the bottom of a pool. The watermanship test was the prerequisite for a swift water rescue course, which included 8 hours of online coursework and 24 hours of instruction in the Feather River training to rescue victims in rivers and/or floodwaters.
Memorial Day weekend began summer beach season when more people go to the local beaches along the river, which result in multiple drownings each year. DART proactively patrols the local beaches handing out life jackets and warning people about the dangers of swimming in the river. Since DART started these patrols, drownings have gone down significantly.
When I’m not working at N&L, you might find me patrolling the local beaches, helping the Sheriff’s office with recovery efforts or helping to rescue swimmers in distress.
Written by Lorenzo Lopez, AIA, Justice Market Lead