After heavy rains moved across Kansas over the weekend, and more severe weather in the forecast, Reno County authorities are on high alert.
Randy Henderson, Sheriff, warned people in the area to be extra cautious because of the lack of water rescue capabilities in the county. Firefighters in Hutchinson said they are very limited on their resources.
“Honestly we're pretty limited in what we can do with the equipment that we have,” Hutchinson Fire Captain Breck Heller said. “Most of what we do is shore-based.” Shore-based means rescue crews have to have an area on land they can use as an anchor spot. They park some sort of vehicle and can then attach rescuers' life jackets to the vehicle. That way, the rescuers do not get swept up in the fast-moving water.
But looking at the Hutchinson Fire Department’s equipment, they said it clearly doesn’t cover everything they need. They have life vests, helmets, water rope, throw bags, an inflatable raft and flotation devices. The South Hutchinson Fire Department has a utility vehicle that can be used in the biking trail areas and an anchor spot. Both departments don’t have the kind of boats they would need.
“Boats are our biggest priority to be able to get into the water,” Heller said. “That's our biggest need.”
Both departments said the issues are money and recognition of need.
“Honestly, funding,” Heller said. “And the recognition of a problem because most people think that the Arkansas River is two feet across 11 months out of the year.” He said people handling the budget don’t think the department needs more equipment even though he disagrees. He said his department hasn’t gotten new water rescue equipment in at least four or five years.
South Hutchinson Fire Chief Mike Patterson said it’s something they’ve tried to fix, but it’s been difficult to get the money.
“Over the years, the county fire chiefs have talked about getting a dedicated rescue boat,” Patterson said. “The budgeting has never been there for that purchase. Patterson said years ago, the departments applied for a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, but they didn’t meet the qualifications to get the money.
Heller said his department tried to get more training and wanted to work with the University of Kansas to do so, but he said that fell through.
Despite the lack of equipment in both departments, Heller said his team makes it work.
“We get our job done. But we could provide a lot better service with the proper training and the proper equipment,” Heller said.