Firefighters Bladon Zaplotinsky

To the rescue at Alberni’s Centennial Pier

No one’s fallen off of Centennial Pier's south side just yet but the Port Alberni Fire Department wants to be prepared.

No one’s fallen off of Centennial Pier just yet but the Port Alberni Fire Department wants to be prepared for the eventuality.

The pier was originally built two years ago to protect the ships in Fisherman’s Harbour from strong winds coming in from the Alberni Inlet. As a consequence, it’s now the south side of the pier that takes the brunt of the waves created by the wind.

If the wind is bad enough, anyone who falls into the water on that side is going to have a tough time getting out. The climb up is steep, which means the rescue is steep too.

“If you’re in there trying to swim, I don’t think you’d last very long,” says Fire Chief Tim Pley. “You’d get tired pretty fast and get forced under.”

Realizing this, the Port Alberni Fire Department got to work developing a way to get people out of the water without risking a firefighter’s life in the process.

“We realized we didn’t have any way to get someone out of there. In water rescue you want to be able to throw something to somebody or reach out and pull them as opposed to going in the water,” says deputy chief Chris Jancowski.

“The cargo net is an idea that Chris took from the ship industry; it’s not unusual to see that kind of technique in a search and rescuue situation so we just applied it here,” adds Pley.

The cargo net is a 10-by-15-foot net with six-inch centres that give the person being rescued a place to grab on as well as preventing an unconcious person from slipping out.

Pley is so confident in his firefighters’ creation that he was willing to test it out himself.

“I was gonna jump in but they wouldn’t let me,” he laughs.

Instead, the fire department on Tuesday demonstrated the technique with “Hose A,” a test dummy that gets to 150-160 pounds when wet to simulate an average person.

The net device takes about 15-20 seconds to install on the pier and then “it’s just the firefighters taking the leading edge and dropping it down the side [of the pier] and scooping up underneath,” Jancowski said.

While the ride up isn’t exactly gentle and could lead to a few scratches, Jancowski doesn’t think anyone will complain.

“[It’s] nothing that would outweigh not being rescued or being in the water for a longer period of time,” he said.

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