Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 8:34 PM on Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Rescue of dog offers priceless real-world training for rescuers

Last week's rescue by Homer firefighters of Sketcher, a 13-year-old dog, from a Main Street storm drain might be criticized by some as a waste of taxpayer dollars. Homer Police, Homer Volunteer Fire Department firefighters, the Animal Control officer and several Public Works employees worked for about an hour to rescue the male Australian cattle dog from a muddy morass he somehow got into.

We disagree.

Not only did paid and volunteer city workers bring Sketcher home to his loving family, but the event provided them with real-world experience in confined space rescues. The incident might be the first time a living being got pulled out alive from Homer's storm drains and the first time local firefighters did such a rescue.

Coincidentally, the rescue happened just weeks after firefighters refreshed their confined space rescue techniques. Crawling down into dark spaces that could be filled with poisonous gases isn't easy — not if you want to be sure our mostly volunteer firefighters go home safely to their own families. Firefighters try to minimize risks in their jobs. They also take calculated risks every time they answer a page. Can they save lives and property without risking their own lives?

That decision can be made easier if firefighters have good training and equipment. For the paid staff at the fire department, all certified as firefighters and medics, much of their job is keeping up on their skills and maintaining their equipment. The volunteers also have to take classes to become firefighters and medics. Of the seven firefighters on the scene, three were paid and the rest volunteers.

No training simulation can substitute for the real thing. In the middle of a busy summer afternoon, with street noise and traffic, nosy onlookers and hazards like open manhole covers, the firefighters had to focus on a simple task: finding and saving a life.

Sure, it was a dog, but the next time it could be a child. The experience gained during the June 1 incident will help the rescuers work better next time if, God forbid, a human gets in a similar situation.

We know the firefighters will review how the rescue went. We hope Public Works will look at the storm drain system to figure out ways to keep critters out. This also is a good lesson in why storm water systems should be designed better — a burden not just of the city, but of private developers.

In any case, it wasn't just a dog — it was a furry member of someone's family, a loyal companion to the Smith family. We're pet lovers here at the Homer News, too, and glad our firefighters saw fit to save one of our canine friends.

The Sketcher rescue turned out well, a happy ending that brings some joy into our lives. Congratulations to all the firefighters and other city employees who worked professionally doing what they do: saving lives. In our view, those are tax dollars well spent.


Speaking of firefighters, we'd like to pass on a request made by them. Firefighters also went to another call last week, a 20-foot-square brushfire at Bishop's Beach that started with an unattended campfire. We know people like to have cookouts on the beach and at local campgrounds. Let's use some caution when doing so.

Use fire pits. Build fires on bare soil — that doesn't mean a coal seam — with clear ground at least 10 feet around the fire. Take a bucket of water to douse the fire when done, and make sure embers are cold to the touch. Don't bury fires with sand, either. That's what happened at the Bishop's Beach fire. Someone did that, only to have high winds blow away the sand and reignite the fire.

A beach might seem like a good place for a fire, unless you build it near piles of driftwood and dry grass. A fire that gets out of control in the jackstraw logs at Bishop's Beach or the Spit could flare up into a serious wildfire that would threaten million dollar homes and our precious parks.

Build those fires safely, and put them out when done.