The recruits practise removing an “Oscar” from the water during the rescue exercise. Photo by Mike Chouinard

RCMSAR recruits get ‘smoke on the water’ training near Comox

Comox Fire Rescue also practises fighting boat fire as part of scenario

A few marine search-and-rescue recruits got some training with a smoke-on-the-water scenario Saturday.

The 35-foot sailboat wasn’t really on fire, but it was rigged to provide some artificial smoke while in the bay near Comox, as well as the opportunity to practice a maritime rescue.

“They started this training last September,” RCMSAR trainer Bob Hodgson said. “This is the culmination of it.”

The three Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Station 60 Comox (RCMSAR) recruits were near the end of training since last fall and were put through a number of exercises around attending to a boat on fire – in this scenario, the result of a propane cylinder explosion.

RELATED STORY: Comox Valley’s Marine Search and Rescue unit looking for new recruits

Over the course of the drill, they had to handle everything from rescuing an injured person out of the water – in this case, two practice dummies referred to as “Oscars” – to prepping an injured person, with RCMSAR member Celeste MacKenzie now playing the part of the injured boater, for transport to shore and then to responders on shore, to de-watering the sailboat from any leaks to towing it in back so it would not provide a further hazard.

“Then it will become an obstacle to navigation,” Hodgson said.

Another skill to practice was SAP, which stands for Stop-Assess-Plan, which is crucial to handling these emergencies.

After the exercise, the RCMSAR members held a debriefing to go over what went well and some of the things such as communication on the scene that they can continue to improve.

The weather cooperated on this particular Saturday morning, though often they go out on rescues in different weather when the water is much choppier.

For as many tasks as the search-and-rescue team handles, they don’t do everything.

“We don’t fight fires, although we could soak the boat down,” said Hodgson. “We save lives…. We get the people out of the water.”

The fire is left up to other authorities. In the case of this particular location near the marinas in Comox, the job falls to Comox Fire Rescue (CFS), which had its own boat out on the water to practise, especially pumping water toward the sailboat.

CFS training officer Pascal Lafreniere said a few things with the training exercise were a little different from a typical call, which on Saturday sped up the response – for example, members being readily at hand after a call-out and the fact their boat was already in the slip at the marina.

“We geared up for the exercise,” he said.

While responding to incidents on water do not comprise a huge part of the workload for Comox Fire Rescue, they do have responsibility for fires in the bay around Comox., though they do not go past the spit unless authorized and under the right conditions. Still, working in their own boat provided some members a chance to work on putting out maritime fires.

Like RCMSAR, Comox Fire Rescue is looking to recruit new members and is interviewing potential candidates for the next intake, which should start during the summer.

“We’re always looking for recruits. We are taking on a class right now,” said Lafreniere.

RELATED STORY: Comox Fire Rescue seeking new members

To contact Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, see or the Facebook page, or email For information about training with Comox Fire Rescue, see or call 250-339-2432.

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The Comox Fire Rescue boat sprays some water toward the sailboat in the exercise. Photo by Mike Chouinard

The rope is tossed to get ready for towing. Photo by Mike Chouinard

The RCMSAR Cape Lazo tows the Peter Duck into the marinas in Comox. Photo by Mike Chouinard

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