Fort Mill Times

Volunteer rescuers focus on water safety with Catawba River training session

With sweltering heat by mid-morning, a freshwater flow lapping at their wet-suited toes, it’s a wonder every student in rescue training wasn’t volunteering for victim duty.

But this day in the sun was about avoiding having victims in the first place.

“Over the years, we’ve seen the equipment get better,” said Scott Krein, who recently trained more than 30 rescue personnel on swift water tactics on the Rock Hill side of the Catawba River, just as it lets out from Lake Wylie Dam. “We need to make sure the rescuers know how to use it.”

York County Emergency Response Team — a nonprofit group of volunteer divers and surface support that responds to water-related incidents — hosted the training with rescue personnel from Fort Mill, Rock Hill, Lancaster and Lake Wylie’s Bethel Volunteer Fire Department.

Larry Crooks, group commander, said such training events regularly draw participants from as far away as Tennessee, throughout South Carolina and across into Charlotte.

“We try to host it once a year to get everybody working together,” Crooks said. “Our primary thing is working together.”

Austin Cathey, a training officer with Bethel, attended the class with new department member David Griffis. In the weeks before the training, Lake Wylie had a drowning, a car in the lake and a dual training between Bethel members and fire boat personnel with Charlotte Fire Department. The day before training, a personal watercraft explosion on the lake injured another man.

“All that happened in our area,” Cathey said. “We’re looking to broaden what we do on Lake Wylie.”

Bethel is looking into its own fire boat, and emphasizing specialty training, such as the swift water class, Cathey said.

Crooks said he’s surprised York County Emergency Response Team, which celebrated its 25-year anniversary earlier this summer, remains somewhat unknown in its community.

They are working on raising awareness about their name, cause and need for volunteers. Currently, there’s a door-to-door fundraising effort.

Awaiting rescue with each drill was a volunteer class member upstream, floating down until a classmate could swim out and stabilize the pair face-up in the river.

Fellow classmates then practiced tossing rope bags out to the pair, where the rescuer would grab hold and reel them back to safety. The training aims to save lives, Krein said, and also to protect the rescuers themselves. It teaches them to “save themselves and save the public when the need arises,” he said.

Volunteers joked the best job was heading in upstream and cooling off on a “relaxing” trip to the end line. A trip they hope residents won’t ever have to take in a real world situation, but one they’re better prepared to assist should the need arise.

Want to know more?

The York County Emergency Response Team is seeking new members. Divers and non-divers are needed. Email For more information about the group, call 803- 370-4929 or visit