In the late 1950′s, the Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department at 7913 MacArthur Boulevard responded to the needs of the community and the rural Great Falls Park area by purchasing a small aluminum “V” hulled boat; it was used to assist fisherman, swimmers, and canoeists that would get into trouble in the swift and dangerous Potomac River. As the call volume increased because of rapid residential development, an additional station was opened on River Road, and an additional 16 foot aluminum boat was added. Personal protective equipment was, at best, the “horse collar” life jacket.
In the late 1970’s, the first inflatable “zodiac” was purchased. This change was similar to the dramatic upgrade from horse drawn wagons to mechanical engines. After the craft proved its amazing abilities for flotation and personnel safety, a second inflatable was purchased; they were both outfitted with electric starters and jet drives. An additional cache of specialized water rescue equipment was then purchased and carried on the brush trucks.
In 1990, the first dedicated Boat Support unit was purchased specifically to carry all water and rock rescue gear. A Jon boat was stored on its roof for shallow water operations. Larger inflatable boats were later purchased to increase payload, safety, and staffing. The fleet was growing with specialized crafts for every incident type as the river team grew to a full 24 x 7 team in all elements.
In 1993, Air Boat 10 was secured to enhance the capabilities of the team in shallow and ice-covered waters. Air Boat 30 was added to the fleet in 2004, giving matching equipment and capabilities at each Cabin John station.
The Water Rescue Team was formally organized in 1992 and called the RRATS or “River Rats” for River Rescue and Tactical Services. It started with a handful of personnel who had minimal training and quickly transitioned into a highly skilled team of nearly 50 rescue professionals.
The team has developed its own rigorous training program which consists of intense classroom and field courses. The detailed qualification packages are pending accreditation from the University of Maryland. Specific packages have been developed for each level of certification. These include:
♦ Water Rescue Specialist
♦ Swiftwater Operator
♦ Airboat Operator
♦ Public Safety Diver.
In addition to its rescue capabilities, the RRATS team stands out in its level of medical certification. A number of members are paramedics who have further supplemental training in the care of hypothermia and drowning patients; regular re-certification is conducted to maintain medical skill proficiency.