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SCOPE of a SWR Workshop

SCOPE of a Swiftwater Rescue Workshop
                                                                                          -- Jim Simmons

Many have asked this question--"what will I learn from a rescue workshop?" Read on further for explanations about concepts and strategies taught in our workshops.
A rescue workshop will put you in touch with techniques and strategies that can be used for a lifetime of paddling, no matter your level of paddling, but it will be up to you to become "rescue educated". Just as with paddling skill practice this means continued development and sharpening of rescue skills. Can you take a rescue situation, break it into procedural elements, and gauge the factors at play without taking unnecessary risks or making a situation worse as you complete a rescue.

Paddlers who float easy rated rivers all the way through difficult whitewater streams and creeks, often must deal with an array of rescue situations that carry various risks. A main goal of a workshop is to assist participants to fine tune critical judgment, especially in pressure-packed, emotional circumstances, that will help you lessen the inherent risks in paddling and rescue.

RESCUE AWARENESS -- heightening awareness in ways to avoid and prevent accidents, drammatically changes a boater's approach to boating. In fact, we might consider swiftwater rescue training as defensive driving for whitewater paddling. You can't control what the other driver might do (the river's behavior), but you can maintain keen awareness in recognizing river hazards and take action to minimize risks. A variety of skills, techniques, and strategies will be presented that comprise 'the fundamentals of rescue'. After the training, when making future paddling trips, rather than just a day of fun out paddling, you'll leave the put-in "thinking like a rescuer", making the needed pre-trip preparations in case you have to respond to an emergency.

CRITICAL JUDGMENT -- concentrating on critical judgment that is necessary in rescue situations, rather than just on the 'rote' learning of various skills will be a workshop priority. Just gaining experience in paddling doesn't automatically guarantee sound judgment in rescue situations. One must reflect on the outcomes of one's experience, looking at errors in judgment that have been made in the past. It is these so-called 'bad' experiences you've encountered that cause this reflection because they stick in memory.

In his classic 1974 Wilderness Handbook, Paul Petzoldt defined judgment this way (relative to outdoor risk activities)--"Judgment is the ability to relate a total experience to a specific activity. Learning judgment, assessing priorities, is as important as perfecting techniques of a risk activity; in fact, the teaching of techniques without the commensurate accompanying judgment in using the techniques, can be dangerous." Sharpening one's judgment in knowing appropriate actions to take, or not take, is uppermost throughout the workshop instruction. The instructors will refrain from being dogmatic in presenting rescue principles. There is no "published" protocol for handling an individual rescue situation--they're all going to be different. Looking at a situation and applying strategies that minimize risks, or what Petzoldt described as 'situational judgment' is what encourages rescuers to think through their actions.

BEING PROACTIVE (RATHER THAN FUNCTIONING IN 'REACTIVE' MODE) -- it is far better to be prepared for eventualities than to have to lapse into emergency reactive mode. A workshop presents an accepted 'operational system' for managing a rescue situation that will "take paddlers out of the classic reactive thinking". A variety of techniques and strategies will be covered that will build on this proactive mentality.

PERSONAL SELF-RESCUE SKILL -- more than likely the most compelling skill acquired during the training is the emphasis given to swimming self-rescue in strong river current. This comes from much in-water practice time spent in various drills using river hydrology and river dynamics that require performing self-rescue or rescue swimming of other swimmers. This knowledge and skill can be the difference between a successful self-rescue and a life-threatening swim; or in assisting another paddler who needs help. It is also builds heavy doses of self-confidence!

ONGOING DEVELOPMENT OF RIVER SAVVY -- making swiftwater/whitewater rescue "a way of life" will enhance one's boating pleasure because of its empowering nature. Everytime a paddling trip is made more and more knowledge of the characteristics, behavior, natural hazards and nuances of rivers (...river savvy) can be gained through frequent practice of rescue techniques. Rescue training is not just a "one time thing", it must be practiced and developed the same as boating skill. If you don't 'use them' these skills will likely not be readily available when you need them! Find a swiftwater rescue workshop soon!

1) ACA Swiftwater Rescue Course Formats.
2) Concepts from Paul Petzoldt's Wilderness Handbook.

Jim Simmons, 2/'11; Jim Jones contributed input to this report.
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