Firefighters practice techniques to remove a victim from the water as South Carolina Task Force 4 conducts water-rescue training May 5 in Crystal Lake in Bluffton. The rescue technique includes the use of a fire hose to lift the victim.

With the start of hurricane season just around the corner, South Carolina Task Force-4 (SCTF-4) recently took to the water to practice and perfect water-rescue techniques.

“We’re knocking the dust off, getting our PPE (personal protective equipment) out and getting acclimated to it while refreshing our skills,” said Lt. Steve Arnold of the Bluffton Township Fire Department (BFTD).

SCTF-4 is composed of firefighters from the Bluffton Township Fire Department (BTFD) and Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue (HHIFR).

“We are a regional response team,” Arnold explained. “In the event of a hurricane or tornado or flooding, we get called up, we get dispatched. That’s when we deploy as a team to mitigate that area.”

Training is a regular part of the life of any first responders. That is especially true for SCTF-4. The team spends about a half day training on the first Thursday of every month.

On a warm morning in early May, the members of SCTF-4 donned their dry suits and waded into Crystal Lake in the Bluffton neighborhood of Hampton Lake. Besides the calm conditions and easy access, the location had another important benefit for the firefighters.

“It’s a nice, controlled atmosphere,” Arnold said. “There’s nothing in there trying to eat us while we’re training, which is really nice. It’s a benefit. They keep it gator free.”

The team is trained to handle a wide variety of emergency situations including confined-space rescue, low- and high-angle rescue, auto extrication, structure collapse and swift-water rescue. The team’s first deployment of the year was to Allendale County after a tornado tore through that area in early April. Arnold said the team is often deployed to the Columbia area where low-lying areas are often prone to flooding.

One unique feature of the training was the first use of a rescue technique developed by the team. Intended to pull victims from the water into a boat, it featured three bands of 5-inch hose. The hose was deployed onto the water’s surface, and the victim was floated over the device by firefighters working in the water.

Using straps, two firefighters in a boat pulled the victim from the water. The technique worked so well that on first use the victim practically popped out of the water and went sprawling across the deck of the boat.

Lesson learned, firefighters used less muscle on future attempts and the victim was gingerly brought aboard.

Tony Kukulich, a recent transplant to Bluffton, is an experienced freelance news writer and photographer.