IT'S a tool rescuers hope they won't have to use during this spring's flood, but one they're happy to have at their disposal.
This week, the province is training a team of rescue technicians who will be able to swoop down in a basket lowered from a helicopter to reach stranded people.
In the past, the Office of the Fire Commissioner, which handles rescues, has used helicopters to spot stranded people as well as to direct rescues -- including during the flooding at Breezy Point in 2009. But until this year, provincial rescuers haven't had the equipment or training to swoop down with a heavy-lift helicopter and transport someone to dry ground.
"It's exactly the same type of rescue that you'll see with Coast Guard applications," Chris Jones, the province's fire commissioner, said Thursday.
The province has several privately owned helicopters at its disposal in case of an emergency. The choppers involved in rescues will have a pilot, co-pilot, two spotters and a rescue technician, who will be deployed in the basket, Jones said.
Rescuers have already identified spots along the Red River that can be used as staging areas for the whirlybirds. The same goes for western Manitoba, where severe flooding is also predicted along the Assiniboine River.
Helicopters with specially trained technicians and proper equipment will be on call at both Winnipeg and Brandon. The province is also looking into whether a third chopper will be needed along the border with Saskatchewan.
"We've got a whole deployment communication response plan that we've developed," said Jones. "It runs very quickly. In the event... someone needs help, it's a very, very quick response."
Of the eight rescue technicians being trained, four are with the provincial Office of the Fire Commissioner and four are from the Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service.
The new chopper rescue system can also be used in other situations, Jones said. "If a hiker has fallen and they're not in good shape, it's a lot easier to utilize this piece of equipment than put them on the back of a quad and try and bounce them out of the bush."
The rescue choppers will be used in tandem with a special helicopter ambulance the province is leasing from Alberta throughout the flood period, just as it did in 2009.
Potentially, rescuers will lift someone out of harm's way and then give way to the medical chopper -- if a person is hurt and needs to be transported to hospital quickly, Jones said.
Health Minister Theresa Oswald said the province is continuing to develop plans for a permanent provincial helicopter ambulance. She said it could be put in place as early as this year.