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Butte firefighters endure cold water in river rescue training

river rescue training.jpg
Posted at 5:33 PM, May 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-25 11:55:14-04

DIVIDE - The Big Hole River is a place people come to to have a good time, but it can also be a place where tragedy can happen, especially this time of year when the river is fast and unpredictable. That’s why the Butte-Silver Bow Fire Department is out here doing river rescue training.

“Hold on to him! Hold on to him! You got him!” firefighters shouted from the banks.

“The river is a dangerous place. In order to enjoy river recreating, we have to learn river safety and river rescue,” said Butte river rescue trainer John Amtmann.

A group of Butte firefighters are going through a 3-day training course put on by the Whitewater Rescue Institute out of Missoula to learn rescue techniques in fast water.

“Just want to make sure with as many people that are using the river in the past couple years that we are set up to help keep the people safe if they get themselves in a bad spot,” said Butte Fire Battalion Chief Chad Silk.

The trainers are impressed with their progress.

“We’ve spent the last so far day and a half in this cold water and these guys are cold but willing to do anything,” said Amtmann.

People looking to float the Big Hole this time of year should be experienced and cautious before going in.

“There’s been times where people look at the river from the road and they think, ‘oh, no problem,’ and they severely underestimate the power,” said Amtmann.

Al Lefor lives in Divide near the dam and he says he personally has to rescue three to four people a year whose watercraft flips over in the rough water near the dam.

“Right now the river’s running 5,000 CFS and, unless you’re really good on the oars through the canyon and down here, stay away from it,” said Lefor.