First responders take to pool to learn water survival skills

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – A group of first responders and law enforcement officers dove into a special class to learn water survival skills.

The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, or NASBLA, is hosting one of its new officer water survival classes this week for the first time in Arkansas.

The course teaches officers specifically how to survive in the water if they should fall in unexpectedly or end up there during an altercation.

"This isn't rescue swimming," said John Thomas, a wildlife officer with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. "This is 'I'm in the water, and I didn't plan to be.'"

Earlier this year, Thomas flew to Maine to become trained to teach this course. He's currently helping lead the water survival class going on this week in Batesville.

"It's basically getting officers more comfortable in the water in adverse conditions," he said. "They'll be taught methods of basically self-preservation if they go in the water unexpectedly."

Officers have traveled to Batesville just to complete this class from several different states, including Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Texas. They will also become trained as future instructors for this course.

"Most everyone here is here because they spend a lot of hours on the water," Thomas said. "They're patrolling in boats and things like that."

For the session Tuesday, the officers took to the pool at the Becknell Physical Education building at Lyon College. The instructors made the officers in attendance tread water for five minutes in full gear, which Thomas said was important.

"However we're dressed in that boat, that's how we're going to go in the water while we're working," Thomas said. "That's the way we train them is full-gear."

The officers also learned what to do if they're thrown into the water along with a suspect and need to draw their guns. Cpl. Freddie Friar with the Independence County Sheriff's Office says this particular skill could help him with his work on the river patrol team.

"At some point, we may have to affect an arrest," Friar said. "If they're not really wanting to go with us – which very rarely many people want to go with us – there could be a fight in the boat or something like that and into the water we go. This is the perfect class to teach us how to actually get away from the suspect and pretty much survive."

Friar says he has had to arrest people on the river before, but he's never had any trouble. With a few days left to complete this survival course, however, he says he's better prepared to handle any situation that may arise.

"We may depend on these skills that we're learning in this class to just survive," he said.

The officers that complete this week-long course will be certified to train others on these survival skills.

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