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West Point police prepare for new rescue group

By Melanie Ruberti

Melanie.ruberti@lagrangenews.com

 

WEST POINT – People fishing, canoeing, kayaking and just enjoying the gentle waters and sunny banks along the Chattahoochee River this summer will be joined by police officers and firefighters floating alongside them.

The West Point Police Department in conjunction with the West Point Fire Department will implement phase one of the city’s new Swift Water Rescue Team.

“We bought four kayaks plus the gear and rescue equipment to go with it,” said West Point Police Chief Tony Bailey. “We also bought a floating backboard in case our team comes across someone who has been injured and needs to get to shore.”

The kayaks and gear were bought with money awarded to the West Point Police Department by the Charter Foundation. The foundation, led by Bill Gladden, presented Chief Bailey and the department with $38,000 in early May.

The new kayaks are 12-feet long, 33- inches wide and can hold one person, the chief said. The craft is steady in the water and hard to tip over.

Bailey hopes to officially deploy the kayaks in mid-June.

“We’ll have two (kayaks and personnel) in the water at a time,” he said. “We’ll be out there as the summer progresses with coolers filled with water and first aid kits. This also allows families and students (West Point University) to get to know the Chattahoochee River,” Bailey continued. “But people can underestimate it. The river has a lot of rocks. But it’s a great resource – good for exercising. We want people to be comfortable on the river and know we’ll be out there too.”

The kayaks are just a small portion of a grander plan for the water rescue group.

When complete, the team will be comprised of 16 firefighters and police officers. Six members will form the new rescue squad and 10 employees will become the “operation center”, which will be based along the shoreline.

“This will allow for 24-hour, seven-day a week coverage,” Bailey said. “We’ll have protective gear and equipment for the people in the water and protective gear and equipment for folks on the shore.”

The final plan also includes a state-of-the-art, rock-proof boat.

The Swift Water Rescue Team will be used in emergencies along the Chattahoochee River, such as an overturned boat or unresponsive swimmer.

“For the most part, this is a lazy river. But the Chattahoochee has been deemed hazardous,” Bailey said. “When employees are generating the West Point Dam, the water can look very deceiving. The currents become very swift and the water rises quickly. In addition to the Flint River, there is 900 miles of shoreline for us to cover. This new team is critical.”

The closest water rescue teams are located in East Alabama, Columbus, Atlanta and Cobb County, Bailey said.  Once up and running, the new team will only be minutes away from reaching an emergency situation on the river.

“There are two boat ramps in West Point,” Bailey said. “We can access them relatively quickly. These boats are really fast. Once we get the trailer to transport the kayaks, boat and gear, we can go anywhere we’re needed.”

The Chief said in dire situations, the Swift Water Rescue Team will work alongside the Department of Natural Resources and the Troup County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team.

This fall, the six-member rescue squad and the operations team will receive official training and become certified in aiding swift water rescues. Bailey hopes to have the full team complete with the necessary gear and equipment up and running in a year.

Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.