Safety Training for Volunteers at Creeks

Safety Training for Volunteers at Creeks

For the Beaufort Watershed Stewards (BWS), spring means more than sunshine and robins. It also means time to train! A formal, documented training program for our stream samplers is critical. It assures those who might use our data that standardized protocols were followed in its collection.

On a cool but pleasant March morning, the three newest members of BWS gathered around a dining room table for some classroom instruction. We covered basic concepts: what we measure and why, principles of measurement, common pitfalls, etc. We covered the care and handling of our specialized gear. We demonstrated our calibration procedures, a key component of high-grade data. We discussed the actual sampling protocols, another key component of reliable data. Then we all headed to Waterloo Creek for some hands-on practice.

Later that day, core members of our flow monitoring team took part in a quite different kind of training – an informal course in swift water safety. Measuring the water flow in Mud Bay Creek or Waterloo Creek is never a problem. They are both gentle little rills. Yes, Cook Creek can be more robust, but where we sample, the bottom is flat and free of large boulders. It never feels treacherous. Wilfred Creek and Cowie Creek, on the other hand, have irregular stream beds with slippery boulders and deep holes. And the water level in these larger creeks can be waist-high, or higher. One of our newer BWS members has extensive experience in white water kayaking. He agreed to help us develop safer methods for when we measure flow in these larger, faster streams.

The biggest change to how we work? No more waders. Waders are the norm for the hydrologist crowd. Sometimes we wear them, sometimes we do not. But if you fall in a stream, your waders can quickly fill up with water. This makes it harder to get up and harder to maneuver to shore. For the training, we ditched the waders and struggled into wet suits. It felt like overkill; the water was barely over our knees. But we played along. We started by doing some float drills. The idea is that if you fall, rather than thrashing desperately to get your footing, you should simply go with the flow. You are warm in your wet suit, and you can just lie on your back and gaze at the canopy above. The current will take you to the next shallow spot where you can roll over and stand up. And while a fall in waders can be a disaster, a fall in a wet suit is no big deal. In fact, one begins to feel a bit like an ungainly otter, unworried about splashes and missteps and happy to be wet from head to toe. We spent some time in this new, freer mindset, going about the normal steps of a transect. By the end, we were all wet suit converts. And as we were packing up to leave, we realized there was another benefit to wet suits. The gyrations and contortions required to actually get in and out of them is better than yoga for maintaining flexibility and balance!

The next day was the end of our training trifecta. Ten of us attended an all-day first aid class taught by Alpine First Aid. We practiced CPR on the dummies and took turns pretending to be injured. We came away with certificates (Occupational First Aid, Level 1) and a better sense of how we might manage medical emergencies when we’re on our sampling rounds.

Now we can go back to our creeks feeling better prepared. We can have confidence in the accuracy of our work. We can approach a fast-flowing stream without trepidation. We can dig the first aid kit out of our gear box and have some idea what to do with it. And we can return to the joys of spring:warm sunshine and the joyful song of robins.