By VIN MANNIXvmannix@bradenton.com
MANATEE — The commotion at the Sugar Creek Country Club pool seemed real Wednesday morning.
Shouted orders and urgent radio transmissions filled the air as firefighters labored on a vehicle submerged in nine feet of water.
Sugar Creek resident Sam Roy was almost overwhelmed by the excitement.
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“I saw all the fire trucks and everybody running around,” she said. “I thought, ‘Dear God, what’s happening?’ ”
It was a drill.
Southern Manatee Fire Rescue was conducting water rescue training.
It’s a yearly exercise, but what was different was the submerged vehicle — an 150-pound aluminum prop about the size of the cab for a Mazda pickup.
“It was about as real as it gets, dealing with doors, windows and a steering wheel with someone trapped in there,” said firefighter Jerry Bennett III.
That’s what Jason Weissmann wanted to hear, even if he was the firefighter posing as the victim under water.
The training device was his idea, a collaborative effort that reached fruition thanks to donated material and time from All Phases Welding & Fabrication, Edmunds Metal Works, Suncoast Sign Shop and Tri-Tech.
Weissmann felt the need to do something after the April 2006 crash off the Anna Maria Island Bridge that killed Zane Zavadil and trapped Ryan Costello.
“My thinking was, if we could build something where we could train, we’d be better prepared to respond to such a situation,” said the former Manatee County Marine Rescue lifeguard. “We’re getting people used to swimming with vests and new equipment under water, an environment not everybody’s comfortable in. We’re used to smoky conditions at a fire. This is another aspect.”
“Training to fight a fire, you have to be in one to know what to do,” said firefighter Christi Haymore. “Water is the same way.
Weissmann’s prop — a sturdier successor to a PVC contraption he built — comes with bucket seats, seat belts, a dashboard, and door handles.
All potential obstacles during a rescue.
“It gives you an idea what you may encounter,” said firefighter Ryan Kaliher. “I had to go down a couple of times.”
Lt. Lester Godwin, a veteran, knew well the benefits of the drill.
“Back in the ‘80s, if we saw someone all we could do was throw them a line,” he said. “We had to wait for the sheriff’s office dive team. That could take 30 minutes to an hour. A rescue might become a recovery.”
Looking on was Brad Ranney, who had a personal interest in the submerged vehicle he helped build.
“My whole family has been in firefighting, so I’ll do anything that will help save lives,” said the All Phases Welding co-owner. “That could be my family in there — or me — and these guys’d be prepared.”
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fla. 34206 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a phone number for verification.