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Lake Addressing Program helps identify location during an emergency

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West Pierce Fire & Rescue is ready to respond to emergencies on the water each and every day. This may include anything from people in distress to boat and structure fires on or near the water. One of the common problems encountered when responding to these types of emergencies is trying to get an accurate location and the closest access point to the incident.

Dispatchers often receive calls from a cell phone caller frantically trying to describe their location on the water by using landmarks they see nearby. Often times, the landmark will not allow the dispatcher to pinpoint their location. In this scenario, emergency responders are sent to a general location and attempt to locate the incident from there. This process takes valuable time and when there is an emergency, time is critical. In order to minimize response time, West Pierce Fire & Rescue has designed and implemented the Lake Addressing Program.

The Lake Addressing Program allows anyone, even non-resident boaters, to identify a location on the water or shoreline during an emergency by simply telling the 9-1-1 dispatcher the number located on the nearest dock or buoy. This allows for a fast and efficient emergency response to a known location, saving valuable time when it is needed most.

To be successful, the system requires a numbered sign be attached to each dock along the waterfront. For areas without docks, such as large, unimproved shorelines, numbered buoys may be used. The 9-1-1 dispatcher has the ability to cross-reference the dock or buoy number with a physical address and give emergency crews the location immediately.

West Pierce Fire & Rescue has completed this program on Gravelly Lake, American Lake and Lake Steilacoom. The signs are approximately 8×6 inches and are brown with white reflective numbers. The buoys are white with black numbers and have been placed along the shoreline in shallow water at locations offering the best visibility.

West Pierce Fire & Rescue has provided the materials and labor for installation of these signs at no cost to the property owners. It is the goal of West Pierce Fire & Rescue to continue to reach those in need as quickly as possible.

In addition to the Lake Addressing Program, West Pierce Fire & Rescue has trained rescue swimmers and divers, as a part of the dive rescue program.

In May, emergency responders from a range of South Sound fire and police departments trained at the Fircrest city pool learn how to conduct water rescues. West Pierce Fire & Rescue hosts the training program up to twice a year, usually for 10 or more responders from emergency agencies at a time. This spring’s group of 11 emergency responders came from five fire departments as well as the Lakewood Police Department and includes a week of training, with pool time to help prepare for lake or ocean rescues.

“It trains rescuers to be ready for any kind of incident on the water,” Fire Chief Jim Sharp said. “It’s great to have the collaboration with everybody taking the same class. That way, everyone knows the same folks that are going to be in the water with them.”

While the main need for water rescues within West Pierce happen most often within Lakewood’s lakes, response teams can come from a variety of departments, depending on the situation. Because of that, it makes sense to pool resources about training. West Pierce Fire & Rescue also has trained divers on staff that supplement the rescue swimmers during a water rescue. In addition, a mostly grant-funded fire and rescue boat, The Endeavor, was placed into service in 2013 to respond to emergencies in the Puget Sound. West Pierce Fire & Rescue continues to train on all water rescue operations year-round and rescuers are ready for any type of situation that may arise.

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