By Barton Bollfrass

Police have gun ranges, pilots have flight simulators, but flood first responders have next to nothing. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an “annual average of 384 motor vehicle occupant fatalities involve drowning.” Surprisingly, very few emergency responders have trained for swift water rescue, and even less with a submerged vehicle. There is an overwhelming lack of adequate swift water training access to appropriate equipment and location in the United States. This puts fire fighters and the communities they serve at risk as flood seasons increase in severity and frequency with each passing year.

Rain now falls where it historically has not, in volumes we haven’t seen before. The EPA looked at precipitation anomalies from 1901-2021 and found that “[r]ain falls in the contiguous 48 States has increased at a rate of 0.2 inches per decade.” The dangerous flooding that was once a seasonal event is now featured in daily news year round and will only increase in severity. Recent research from First Street Foundation indicated a significant increase in flood risk over the next 30 years along the US Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, as well as a higher risk for the Northwest United States. This poses a massive threat to these communities. According to Flood Fatalities in the United States, “[f]loods are the second-deadliest U.S. weather-related hazard.” And “[f]or all flood types, a majority of fatalities occurred in vehicles (63%)” says a recent data compilation from Northern Illinois University.

Our first responders will always respond, but if they’re not provided adequate training then the States have put them and their communities at risk. Where do they train for the rising severity of floods? Most fire departments conduct annual swift water rescue training in community pools, creeks, even waterpark lazy rivers. These facilities do not prepare responders for night rescue, storm conditions, vehicle rescue, or realistic flood factors. Drowning is the 7th leading cause of death among firefighters, according to a report from Dr. Rita Fahy of the NFPA. If we’re not responding to rising flood threat with adequate training, something needs to change.

Swift water simulation is an option many fire training academies are turning to. This new technology in swift water training can simulation storm conditions, vehicle submersion, extreme currents, and essentially create multiple realistic flood rescue scenarios in a safe environment. Fathom Tank’s indoor swift water simulators are the indoor option with full control of training.

The rain water continues to fall and we need to ask politicians: Where are we training? If the answers are: nowhere, a swimming pool, or without a vehicle, then perhaps it is time to up our game. Municipalities and States have a responsibility to keep our citizens and first-responders safe. When problems arise communities band together to find answers and invent solutions. It is too late to stop the coming rain, but it is never too late to start training.