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Rescue Film Series: Ep. 10: Foot Entrapment Intro

In Part 10 of R3: Rescue for River Runners, swiftwater rescue instructor Jim Coffey introduces techniques for assessing foot entrapment situations and formulating a plan to assist the victim. Foot entrapment occurs when the foot of a swimmer or wader becomes lodged in rocks or other debris on the river bottom. In a foot entrapment situation, water pressure can make extracting the foot and freeing the victim difficult, while the force of the current can lead to loss of airway, submersion and even drowning. Never stand in water unless it’s very shallow, or calm.

From our lawyers: The series is a supplement to, not a substitute for, hands-on training classes.

Most foot entrapments happen in waist-to-chest-deep water. In any scenario you need to establish upstream safety, to prevent any other groups from blundering into the rescue. You also need downstream safety to catch any rescuers who get swept away, or to catch the original victim.

The first thing we need to access is the victim’s situation. Is their head up and do they have an airway? Or, are they face down with no airway? If they have an airway you’ve got some time, but they need stabilization. If they don’t have an airway, they need immediate extraction. If facedown, but with an air pocket, it may be possible to hit them with a rope they can grab onto and stabilize their position.

The second assessment is whether you can make direct contact with the victim. Direct contact is the best way to help them. If we can’t do that, the hope of rescue really goes down. Always remember, a rescuer needs to access the level of risk and avoid becoming a victim themselves.

Our third assessment is the location of the victim in relation to the bank. If they’re within 60 feet (20 meters) of both banks, you can think of using techniques where you’re working from both banks. If we don’t have that, hopefully you’re within that distance from one bank.

These situations often require swift action to save a life. It’s very important that we’ve practiced these skills ahead of time; otherwise we’re wasting precious seconds figuring things out.