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Fire, DNR, Corps train together on river rescues

Hayes Kiser and Lance Vermillion help "victim" Jeremy Austin (in red) across a section of the Chattahoochee River on Monday afternoon.

Hayes Kiser and Lance Vermillion help "victim" Jeremy Austin (in red) across a section of the Chattahoochee River on Monday afternoon.

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Photo: David McGregor Sam Garrison and Cody Baker pull in a cord during the swiftwater rescue training exercise on the banks of the Chattahoochee River on Monday.

BUFORD -- Officials from the Department of Natural Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Gwinnett fire department's swiftwater rescue team held formal training together for the first time ever Monday, collaborating to work a mock rescue situation on the Chattahoochee River.

The fire department's Battalion Chief Rod Dawson said the afternoon of training, based at the lower pool of the Buford Dam, was "extremely important."

"We've got a lot of resources in this area with DNR, with the Army Corps and with our swiftwater rescue team," Dawson said. "Really it's just about combining those resources to effect a rescue, knowing each other and knowing how to operate each other."

Dawson cited last summer's rash of incidents on the river -- some successful rescues, some drownings -- as the impetus for the three groups getting together to formally practice together. Things can get particularly dangerous on the Chattahoochee when water is released from the dam.

"We want to make sure that there's a lot of public awareness that this is extremely dangerous, especially when they're releasing water," Dawson said. "And we also want to make sure that everybody knows that there are things in place that if they ever do get in trouble, that's we're going to be here for them."

The multi-agency training is something Dawson said he hopes will happen at least annually in the future.

"Each one of us is very important separately," he said, "but together it really gives a person that is in danger on the river the best chance of a successful rescue."