Harrisburg firefighters train in the Susquehanna River for water rescues and recoveries

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The outcomes of two recent incidents on the Susquehanna River are what the Harrisburg Fire Departments is trying to prevent from happening. Firefighters were out on the river, conducting river rescue and recovery exercises.The training is rigorous.

The firefighters spend hours in the water preparing for river rescues, but even with proper training, it is still incredibly dangerous for the firefighters, let alone anyone whose in the water without a life-vest or proper training.

"We're going to come up basically beside him, try to grab him, and come up above around him, that way we're protecting them," said Ben Page.

Firefighters spend hours in the Susquehanna River, training in case they get called to a water rescue which Harrisburg Fire Captain Michael Feldman say they frequently do this time of year.

"I have a bet with them that there first call will be a water rescue before a fire," said Captain Feldman.

The hardest part for firefighters?

"Actually finding the person -- from where the caller sees them to where we have to launch our boats to try to narrow down exactly where they're at so we try to position people to get eyes on to get the boats in," said Captain Feldman.

Add to that, Feldman says many victims won't be wearing a PFD, or personal flotation device.

It makes it harder for firefighters to find people who are not wearing a life-vest.

You only got a minute if you're a non-swimmer to stay above the water," he added.

This time of year, you might want to get out in your boat or go swimming, but even if you are an experienced swimmer, these water trained professionals say you should be always wearing your personal flotation device.

"It makes it easier for them to spot as well because they're going to be floating on the top of the water, versus being without a PFD on. You can get pulled underneath the water and get trapped underneath the water, and that's when it becomes a recovery effort."

Recently, there's been two water recoveries involving 8-year-old boys, one off City Island in Harrisburg with an inexperienced swimmer and another recovery in Perry County.

Firefighters say, many times, the difference between a water rescue and a recovery is the flotation device around your chest.

"I would almost put you 100% likely to survive unless something happened to you, unless you got hit in the head with a boat, and even then, you're increasing your odds of surviving because it's keeping you above the water. It's keeping you buoyant, and you will float, and it will increase your chances drastically because we could see you and get you out of the water," explained Feldman.

Another thing that drastically helps firefighters and increases likelihood of survival: if you're the caller, reporting a water rescue, stay on the line with the operator and continue to update them where the victim is. That way, crews can plan where they need to launch a boat or if they can allow a victim to float downstream to them, and always supervise children near bodies of water.

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