COLUMBUS, Ga.- Late Thursday night, News 3 brought you the story of a Columbus who drowned in the Chattahoochee River. The man is 30-year-old Hernandez Wilson. Authorities tell News 3 they were called to an area behind the Bulldog Bait and Tackle Shop around 10 p.m. Thursday where witnesses say Wilson was acting irrationally. News 3 was also told that officers were talking with Wilson and soon after he ran down the boat ramp and into the water. Once in the water, he lost his footing and went under. It took crews 30 minutes to find his body.
News 3 sat down with members of a rescue squad to learn more about how they deal with incidents like Thursday night.
Station 1 in Columbus not only fights fires. all of the members there are trained for water rescues. They say that when the alarm goes off for a call, the clock to save the person or persons starts ticking. They begin to gather as many details about the incident as they can, such as how many are in the water, where they were last seen, if there were any witnesses along with many others. Their goal is to locate the person.
One of the crew members is Sgt. Kevin Campbell. He has been a member of Station 1 for a little more 12 years. In his time, he’s seen and been a part of numerous rescues. Each rescue puts his life in perspective. “Just like I want to go home to my family in the morning, you want them to get out of that water and go home to their family,” Campbell said. “Picking people up off of the rocks is one thing, but there’s people who get stuck on those rocks that think that there’s a chance they can die. You can see it in their eyes when they pull up.” Campbell also says that no matter how experienced a rescue crew member is, there is always something that can get them. He says he thinks about it before he goes to bed and before he comes in for his shift.
It takes crews an average of 5 to 7 minutes to get to the site of an incident and into the water. The three week, intensive training the crews go through, plus their routinely checked equipment helps make sure they get through unpredictable waters like the Chattahoochee and rescue a person or recover them.
“It’s kind of an eerie feeling when you’re diving underwater,” Chief of Training Tim Smith said. “In the Chattahoochee River, we deal with zero visibility. So, it’s a eerie feeling when you’re down in the water. It’s always unexpected. It’s kind of a foreign environment. It’s a feeling of anticipation that one minute. you’re gonna reach out and find a body of the person that you’re looking for. It’s a little bit of anxiety and anticipation. You’re there to find the victim. It’s a little bit of an eerie feeling when you’re underneath the murky waters and all of a sudden you come face to face with a body, but that’s what you want cause that’s what we’re there for. We want to find the victim and recover them so the family can get closure.”
Crews are taught not to panic while in the water because it could be disastrous especially since the person in the water is panicking and they see crews as their lifeline, but it is part of the job. “It’s not about the pay,” Chief Smith said. “It’s about the pride of doing your job and you don’t want the publicity or you don’t want your name thrown out there that hey I did this, you want to know that you were a part of making a difference in someone’s life.”