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Training waters: Lake Bridgeport becomes classroom for cadets

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, April 14, 2018
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Holding On

HOLDING ON – A game warden catches a rope during a swift-water rescue drill below the Lake Bridgeport dam Wednesday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

After a simulated, high-speed chase across the waters of Lake Bridgeport, a game warden cadet carefully ties onto the boat and then tightropes onto the other vessel to pat down the actor. This is before another precarious tightrope to get the actor back across to the game warden’s boat.

The real-world scenario carried out by the 32 cadets – 26 future game wardens and six state park officers – in 10 boats across the lake Thursday afternoon called standard tactics for over-the-rail procedures (STOP) is one of the more challenging lessons and skills facing them.

“Everything on the water is harder,” said Will Plumas, a game warden instructional leader. “When a law enforcement officer makes a stop on the side of the road, there’s things to deal with there. Now, you have to take that standard stop that happens on the highway and put it on the water in a fluid environment. It changes everything.

“We don’t have the luxury of getting out of our vehicle and walking around. Everything we do has to be done from the boat,” he said. “I give the analogy of a highway patrolman pulling up to someone on the side of the road to stop them and they would have to pull their truck next to the one they’re stopping and tie off on their sideview mirror and make the stop without ever having to leave their truck. That’s what we are having to accomplish here.”

Real World Training

REAL-WORLD TRAINING – Game warden cadets practice a stop on the water Thursday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Monday through Friday, cadets stayed at Lake Bridgeport to get hands-on training from instructors in a variety of areas from intense swift-water rescue to the boat procedures training.

Former Wise County Game Warden and Lt. Chris Dowdy helped coordinate the training on the lake and behind the dam. Cadets stayed at the Sid Richardson Scout Ranch for the week. Dowdy said the lake is a perfect training ground for the cadets with the ability to replicate situations the officers may face.

“It’s a 24-hour segment of instruction we do in about 20 hours here,” Dowdy said.

With cooperation from the Tarrant Regional Water District, which was releasing water from Lake Bridgeport downstream Wednesday, cadets went into the river for swift-water training. The cadets worked in three stations, one showing them the power of the water and how to save themselves. The other two stations had them working to use a throw bag to save a person in the water.

“We want them to understand what can happen in a swift-water event,” Dowdy said. “It teaches them if it is a situation they can handle or not because they’ve been in something like it. It’s not something you can explain.”

Dowdy pointed out game wardens were on the front lines during Hurricane Harvey making rescues.

Game Warden David Pellizzari, who will be moving to Wise County in May, was one of the instructors for the swift-water training.

Tossing a Line

TOSSING A LINE – Game warden cadets toss a rope to a fellow cadet during training Wednesday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“It’s the most realistic training you’ll find throughout the state,” Pellizzari said, alluding to the rural environment.

“I’ve used all these skills in the field. It helps to explain that to the cadets.”

Derek Brown of Burkeville was one of the cadets in the water Wednesday.

“I was surprised by the power of the water. This is something that will help when I get into the field,” he said.

On Thursday afternoon, the training shifted to the water where Plumas and Captain Luis Sosa of the game warden’s Maritime Tactical Operations Group led the exercises. After classroom time, cadets carried out the pursuit and stops along with man overboard drills and boat towing.

“We want to give them the basic foundation of boating,” Sosa said. “But by them wearing the game warden uniform, the public expects for an expert to show up.”

Plumas and Sosa said the cadets pick up the boating skills quickly through repetition. Nearly a dozen of the cadets had never driven a boat before the start of the week.

“It’s only their third day, and you could never tell,” Plumas said.

All the lessons follow the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators guidelines.

They point out that the contacts on the water could be routine or as serious as poaching or illegal trafficking. The tight quarters and need to move onto a suspect’s vessel complicates matters.

In the training, the cadets learn how to keep themselves and the suspects safe.

“You have to secure the scene and the suspects. Once you secure the scene, then you can get into ‘Why did you run and what’s going on?,'” Sosa said.

This current crop of cadets, picked out of 1,800 applicants, will graduate in July and be given their assignments across the state.

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