Kayakers’ mishap puts focus on safety, training

16 incidents, 3 drownings in 2013 mandates rescue training

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

Nearly three dozen emergency rescue personnel were involved in or affected by the four-hour search last week for two missing kayakers along Hitchcock Creek between Rockingham and Cordova.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Trail map, personal floatation device, shoes, a charged cellphone and a bottle of drinking water are key elements of a successful, safe kayaking trip along Hitchcock Creek.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Trail map, personal floatation device, shoes, a charged cellphone and a bottle of drinking water are key elements of a successful, safe kayaking trip along Hitchcock Creek.

The fact that the incident, in which no one was injured, was preventable is one matter. It’s entirely another matter to ensure those first-responders tasked with executing rescue operations know the creek for future rescue efforts.

Chip Osborne, director of public safety at Richmond Community College, isdoing his part to help firefighters and public safety personnel know every square inch of the creek and the Pee Dee River.

Osborne said the need for safety training goes back to 2013, a calendar year in which there were 16 rescue missions along the creek and river — and three drownings in Richmond and Anson counties.

Osborne will oversee the training at RCC. Instructional service has been contracted with AEST Inc., a Lauringburg company that specializes in confide space rescues. The goal is to create a dedicated water rescue team among those interested and certified from area fire and rescue departments. Osborne said the request for training came from Cordova Fire and Rescue Chief Ray Webb. RCC conducted a pre-requisite class last year to get to this year’s water rescue class, which will start in the near future.

Chad Osborne, director Richmond Community College Department of Public Safety

Chad Osborne, director
Richmond Community College Department of Public Safety

Along with Cordova, fire or rescue units from Lilesville and Ellerbe, along with Richmond County Rescue and Scotland County Rescue, will participate in the training. Osborne said the training is open to anyone with the technical rescue background.

Mari Bennett, through her company LMO Paradise Rentals, will offer creek familiarization trips down Hitchcock Creek on an as-needed basis for area rescue personnel. Her work will begin with the Rockingham Fire Department. Newly appointed Chief Harold Isler has several years of firefighting experience but water rescue wasn’t part of the job description in Goldsboro, his previous place of employment. Isler started in Rockingham in August and took over as chief only last week.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

“They’re going to do a training program with me for swift water rescue and get more familiar with Hitchcock Creek,” Bennett said. “All of the fire department will paddle our creek, will be more familiar with our waters, so they can respond more accurately and faster.”

Bennett said training will be limited to six per class.

“I imagine we’ll paddle the whole creek, just so they’re familiar with where the (trail) markers are (and) make sure we have maps for them. If somebody needs help on (trail) marker 23, they know where that is and they can get to them quickly.”

It can get confusing for novices and veterans of Hitchcock Creek paddlers to speak to each other, Bennett confirmed. There are numbered markers along the blue trail that offer checkpoints of where a person is at, but those numbers are not mile markers.  However, that’s exactly what experienced paddlers call them.

They’re posted on the left side of the waterway “on trees and such along the (blue) trail,” Bennett said. Regardless, keeping people safe — by training rescuers how to ensure that — is a top priority.

“This is huge for our community,” Bennett said, “so we’ve got to have our safety folks know what they’re doing in order to help the common folks who will come and make choices that might not be the best.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris uses his experience on the creek to help set limitation on what he will and won't do on the water.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris uses his experience on the creek to help set limitation on what he will and won’t do on the water.

Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris, a frequent Hitchcock Creek paddler, said he still can’t believe the creek is available to the public — and is grateful that it is.

Morris spoke of a friend who is afraid of water and extremely afraid of snakes. That friend, Morris said, has paddled Hitchcock Creek from the Roberdel access point 3.67 miles to the Steele Street access point. Each trip has “been quite comfortable” for the friend.

Morris said city staff are assigned to clear downed trees or address other unsafe obstacles along the city’s portion of the waterway. In addition, city firefighters have access to the GPS coordinates of each trail marker along the creek.

“We try to make it as safe as possible,” he said. “If we hadn’t done this” — opened the creek up for public use — “we still couldn’t keep people out of the creek.”

Thus, the need to train emergency personnel in rescue operations would still exist.

Morris said that it comes down to common sense — which, admittedly is a definition many can debate. Morris has paddled the Roberdel to Steele Street section about a dozen times with family members ranging in ages from 7 to 69. The 7-year-olds, Morris noted, did not paddle by themselves but shared sit-on-top or tandem kayaks with other, more experienced kayakers. With a cellphone stored in a waterproof case and attached to his life jacket — a must-have on each trip — they were off. Everything went fine.

“They have been on the creek before, they have paddled canoes and kayaks at camp,” Morris said, checking off the items on the list of common-sense necessities.

In short, Morris, the children knew the basics of paddling.

During one recent suggested trip, an 11-year-old grandchild wanted to paddle his own kayak. Morris didn’t go along with the idea.

“I didn’t feel good about just the two of us going,” said Morris is knowing when he, the more experienced paddler in the two-person group, felt out of his comfort zone.

Morris suggests that inexperienced paddlers can practice on Hinson Lake, without current, or travel 10 to 20 yards upstream from the Roberdel access point to have an area of smooth water in which to practice.

“When you put in (at Roberdel) and head downstream, you’re almost immediately in rapids there,” Morris said. “If you’re inexperienced, this can unnerve you a little bit.”

 

 

 

 

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Outdoors, Public safety

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  • Pine Laker

    There have been three drownings on Hitchcock? I had no idea….I want to take my family there but would like to know more…

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