Seniors from 10 area high schools enrolled in the C4 law enforcement class got their feet wet — literally — learning the basics of water rescues.

Students participated in two days of water rescue education, provided by Columbus Fire Department firefighters, on Feb. 9 and 24. The sessions marked the end of the underwater search and rescue/recovery portion of the C4 law enforcement class.

“Each year we talk about specialized teams within public safety,” said Ron Novak, Columbus East C4 law enforcement teacher. “Fast-water rescue is just another specialty team that can be done within public safety.”

The C4 Columbus Area Career Connection provides career and technical education to area high school students. Students enrolled in C4 courses can also accrue college credit prior to graduating high school.

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Columbus firefighters have been invited the past two years to speak to C4 students on how emergency personnel respond to water-related emergencies, said Capt. Mike Wilson, Columbus Fire Department spokesman.

C4 is the only course completing hands-on education with special teams around the state, Novak said.

During the education sessions, students learned about dangers associated with water rescues, specifically in fast-moving water, Wilson said. In the first session, students became familiar with water rescue methodology, introductory hydrology, rescue equipment and the ways multiple agencies work together during a water-related emergency.

During the second session, students took the plunge into Columbus East High School’s pool and began testing what they’d learned. Students jumped into the pool and were instructed to tread water for 10 minutes while instructors spoke — the hardest part of the experience Columbus East’s Joseph Hendricks said.

Then students attempted to rescue a “drowning” schoolmate under the direction of fire department instructors, using real fire department rescue equipment. To create as realistic an experience as possible in the pool, instructors had to get creative, using a rope to pull acting victims and rescuers up and down the pool to create a current-like motion.

“Swift moving water is powerful and relentless. To recreate the actual conditions of fast-moving water in a swimming pool is impossible,” Wilson said. “The speed of the current (gradient), the volume of water and the natural debris found in and around the water create dangers for rescuers and victims.”

Students attempted multiple rescue methods, including:

Rescue throw bags: Rescuers attempt to throw the bag attached to a rope to a victim and pull them to shore.

Tethered rescue swimmer: A rescuer, tethered to rope, swims out to the victim and is pulled ashore by responders on land.

Hand-to-hand: Rescuers enter the water, attempt to get hold of the victim, preferably from behind, and bring the victim to shore.

“Some of the students on the ‘shore’ (the edge of the pool) had to throw a throw bag to someone in the water, a method that the Bartholomew County Water Rescue team uses often,” Charlotte Watts of Columbus East said. “We quickly learned that throwing the bag is not quite as easy as it looks!”

Other students agreed that saving someone is harder than it might appear.

“(The experience) opened my eyes to what they do to help people more and helped me understand what role (emergency responders) have in society when it comes to saving people,” said Peyton Campbell, a senior at Hauser High School.

Students in one water session also had the chance to see the firefighters respond to an emergency call when they received a water rescue call.

“Within three minutes, all firemen were out of the pool, loaded and gone,” Novak said. “Kids saw how well organized they were.”

For Campbell, holding onto a victim was the most difficult part of the experience.

“Trying to get around somebody if they are drowning (is hard) because they are flinging their arms around and you are trying to get them back to the surface,” Campbell said.

The course will not result in a certification, but it does give students a better understanding of just how powerful water — especially fast moving water — can be, and provides them with skills to avoid becoming a victim, said Wilson.

Many students in the C4 law enforcement class intend to enter some branch of law enforcement in the future, making this instruction all the more important as they need to use it in real life. Campbell said she intends to enter the U.S. Navy after high school and plans to go into forensics, as she has always loved the forensic side of law enforcement. Watts intends to apply to become a sheriff’s deputy, city police officer or state trooper. And Hendricks plans to get his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

Firsthand learning

Students from the following high schools enrolled in the C4 law enforcement class learned water rescue techniques from Columbus Fire Department:

Columbus North

Columbus East

Columbus Signature Academy – New Tech


North Decatur

South Decatur


Brown County



Rescue Methods Used

Here are types of water rescue techniques emergency responders use:

Rescue throw bags

This method is responsible for more successful rescues than any other water rescue equipment and is one of the safest tactics for rescuers as they do not enter the water. It needs very little technical training to use.

The method requires responders to throw a foam-filled bag attached to a long rope into the water toward the victim. The victim then grabs the floating bag and is pulled to shore.

Tethered rescue swimmer

This tactic requires much more technical training than a rescue throw bag. Only a technician level responder would be permitted to perform this type of rescue.

In this method, the rescuer is tethered to a rope, held by other responders on shore. The rescuer enters the water and attempts to reach the victim. Upon making contact with the victim, responders on shore pull the rescuer and victim to safety.


This method can be dangerous as a distressed victim might grab hold of a rescuer or attempt to climb on top of the rescuer. Only a technician level responder would be permitted to perform this type of rescue.

The rescuer would enter the water and attempt to grab the victim from behind, where it is harder for the victim to push the rescuer under or hinder the rescue through frantic movements. The rescuer then drags the victim back to shore while keeping himself or herself afloat.

— Source: Capt. Mike Wilson, Columbus Fire Department spokesman

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Kaitlyn Evener is an editorial assistant for The Republic. She can be reached at or 812-379-5633.