Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue, Coast Guard practice surf rescueCANNON BEACH - Darwin Kjer emerged from the Cannon Beach surf, dripping with 54-degree ocean water.

Kjer, a U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer first class, had just spent about 30 minutes in the ocean with other Coast Guard rescue team members and Seaside lifeguards. But unlike other surf rescues, these "victims" chose to capsize their own boat about 300 yards from shore, all in the name of education.

As the U.S. Coast Guard's HH-60 Jayhawk Helicopter hovers over the "victims," a Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue Waverunner hops the surf to their location.

LORI ASSA-The Daily AstorianCannon Beach Fire and Rescue, Cannon Beach and Seaside lifeguards and the Coast Guard joined forces Wednesday night for an annual surf rescue drill. It was a chance to brush up on necessary skills before the busy summer season gets fully underway, Fire Chief Cleve Rooper said.

"This is potentially dangerous business," he said. "The team works better when they get a chance to work together."

The victims were first taken by Yamaha WaveRunner watercraft to an inflatable boat in the ocean. All equipment was reloaded and sent back to the fire station before being "dispatched" back onto the beach for the drill.

The drill played out like a real rescue. Lifeguards with kayaks and surfboards arrived first and immediately plunged into the sea. The surf rescue team came second with the WaveRunners and were soon bouncing over waves to the victims. Rescue volunteers kept an eye on the victims from their perch high in the air on a ladder truck and emergency medical services arrived shortly thereafter. Soon, the thunder of a Coast Guard rescue helicopter could be heard in the air.

"Communication out there is tough because it's almost impossible to hear over the noise of the helicopter," Rooper said. "So the rescuers really have to rely on non-verbal communication and teamwork."

Onshore, Tony Docekal waited with other EMS volunteers. In the case of a real emergency, they would provide first-responder care, including basic life support, before handing victims over to Ambulance-Medix. Surf rescue victims often suffer from hypothermia and other injuries.

"We have to always be prepared because we don't always know what to expect or the seriousness of the condition," Docekal said.

Concerned citizens approached Rooper and other volunteers, thinking it was a real rescue. When they were assured it was a drill, many stayed to watch, taking photos and videotaping the event.

"Although I'd hate to be one of the victims, it is great to see this kind of response," said Peter Sgouros of Portland. He and Lauren Byerley, also of Portland, were visiting Cannon Beach.

"It makes us feel safer when we're visiting," Byerley said.

It took rescuers about 30 minutes to complete the drill, which is pretty good for nine victims, Rooper said. Although there were some communication problems and disturbance from helicopter's propellors created some difficulties, he counted the drill a success. Volunteers headed back to the fire station for a hot meal and debriefing, where they would share opinions and discuss challenges.

"People get a lot of rust on their skills," Kjer said. "This knocks the rust off. They did a good job tonight."

Kjer shared a last bit of advice before heading to the debriefing.

"People don't understand the power of the ocean," he said. "You should always wear a life jacket. If people would wear their lifejackets, they would put the Coast Guard out of business."

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