The Guardians: Rescue Swimmers Are Always Training for the Next Challenge

Scott Gordon
Scott Gordon
Rescue swimmers train at Barber Point on Oahu
Rescue swimmers train at Barber Point on Oahu

by Joann Shin

(KHNL) Jumping out of a helicopter, 15 feet above water is part of the job, when you're a Coast Guard rescue swimmer.

"All I think about when I'm in the door is I got to get down there now," explained veteran Scott Gordon.

These guys are in the business of saving lives. Gordon has done it for more than a decade.

Gordon said, "We've had guys go down, when there's a sinking ocean container ship, where there's 30 guys. They're all panicking and you got to figure out how you're going to do this and who goes first. You got to make life and death decisions rather quickly."

That's why training is critical in this line of work. On this day, they simulate a downed plane rescue. The task: free a pilot tangled in parachute lines, get him onto a litter and up to a helicopter.

Every rescue swimmer is a trained emergency medical technician. On another day, training is done on and off the chopper. Gordon heads out. After a quick briefing from the pilot, they're airborne.

"As soon as we take off, it is a group effort; the pilot, co-pilot, the flight mechanic and the swimmer. We are constantly analyzing, talking about what we're going to do."

They practice countless scenarios from a distressed swimmer to a rescue on a boat.

"It's also being very comfortable in water. If you don't have a comfort level, that's extremely high it's almost impossible to do this job," he said.

A rescue swimmer needs to be self sufficient.

"Once we leave the door of the helicopter, the decisions we make are on our own," Gordon said.

He needs to make decisions and solve problems quickly.  And no matter what he needs to be cool under pressure.

"When everything going bad around you you got to be the most calm person," he said.

Nothing in training is taken for granted because the next time could be a real emergency. And when it is, that rescue swimmer will be ready.

Gordon said, "To save somebody is a glorifying feeling. It kind of brings home what you do and why we train. It's a great feeling."