The U.S. and Canada’s top swift water rescue experts, including many IAFF members, were in South Bend, Indiana, honing their rescue training during a three-day symposium.

The 2021 Annual Water Rescue Symposium, held June 7-9, brought together about 140 fire fighters from across the United States and Canada for one day of seminars and two days of field training on the East Race Waterway, the nation’s first artificial whitewater slew. Participants included members from California, Texas, Tennessee, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania and from North Carolina, the site of devastating flooding two years ago.

Those who come here are the best swift water rescue instructors in North America. What we learn here we take back and teach in our fire departments, says Brent Van Bruaene, a member of South Bend Local 362 and an instructor at the Indiana Rescue School.

Following the seminars, participants practice what they’ve learned with a series of simulations conducted on the East Race Waterway with the latest rescue equipment and techniques. The simulations include a vehicle water rescue, wide-area search and rescue and using ropes to vector victims to safety.

Sean Norman, Battalion 7 Fire Chief in Butte County, California and member of CAL FIRE Local 2881, says he learns something new every time he attends this symposium. This year, fire fighters from Greensboro, North Carolina Local 947, demonstrated to Norman and other fire fighters an innovative and simplified roping technique they perfected during the 2019 floods.

While the Water Rescue Symposium does not offer rescue certifications, it does provide rescue professionals the chance to network, share best practices and learn about equipment updates from industry vendors, according to David Abt, president of International Association of Water Rescue Professionals, which runs the event.