The professional fire brigade rescues people from the rivers of the state capital ten to 15 times a year. Twelve kilometers of the Salzach river alone lie within the city limits. This is always a fight against time, as the water temperature is never more than eleven degrees and there is a risk of hypothermia, says fire director Reinhold Ortler.
“We are dealing with very steep banks, but we only have a few places that are suitable for launching the boat. We’re talking about two to three minutes, which can ultimately help us. We looked at this at the professional fire brigade in Innsbruck and Graz and acquired this knowledge from a specialist from the USA. We now want to multiply that and pass it on to our 18 fire department divers,” says Ortler.
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Hypothermia is the greatest danger in water accidents
In the future, the river rescuers will go directly to the scene of the accident in teams of two in neoprene suits and protective helmets, with any vehicle, explains water service trainer Wolfgang Lackner from the professional fire brigade. “As a rescuer, it’s important to look closely at where the person is drifting. Is she unconscious, is she still moving? Then it is also important to pay attention to the flow speed and to recognize the right moment to get to the person,” says Lackner. The rescuer and the rescued are then pulled out of the river together with the safety line – often before a lifeboat has even arrived.
The altered embankments caused by gravel relocation by Salzburg AG attract numerous Salzburg residents to sunbathe or party on the river, especially on warm days. “The Salzach has changed as a result. We are now qualifying river rescuers so that we also have a faster deployment option without a boat,” adds water service trainer Roland Hörzing from the professional fire brigade.
“Instead of daring rescue attempts, it’s better to get help”
If someone falls into the Salzach, the professional fire brigade’s divers advise against courageous rescue attempts by laypeople: “I wouldn’t recommend anyone to just hop into the Salzach like that. It’s all about the temperature. The body cools down extremely quickly and the strength decreases quickly,” says Lackner. It is more important to call for help immediately, for example by mobile phone, not to take your eyes off the person who has fallen into the water for a second and to keep in touch with the emergency services in order to guide them to the right place in the river as quickly as possible.
River rescuers have six millimeter thick neoprene protective suits against the ice-cold water, helmets and very good swimming skills. They are secured from the bank with a line and then pulled ashore together with the rescued person, says Lackner. With the new training, you can now also send forces to places where boats cannot be used, says fire director Ortler and recalls the flooding of Hallein’s city center (Tennengau) by the Kothbach last year.