The scene is observed from the shore of the lake and the alarm is given. Funny to say but for the man in water is in any case a lucky day because not far from there the men and women of the ‘S.I.C.S. – Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs’ are engaged in heli-rescue training session.
The helicopter, an Ecureuil B3 by Eliwork Society, starts the rotors, a S.I.C.S. instructor and his Newfoundland dog are accompanied on board by a technician. The flight is short and from the ground you can see the shapes of canine unit, man and dog, jump from the helicopter that was positioned in hovering at few meters from the water, at some safety distance from the drowning surfer.
That odd couple, man and dog, swim side by side until they reach the victim; the rescuer performs manoeuvres in order to support the surfer who is groping with violence and creates some difficulties to the helper, even if he is an experienced water-rescuer. The dog swims around the two men and they grasp the bodice of the dog. The Newfoundland is swimming, slow but steady, and almost seems unreal that a dog could pull so well two men in the water. Once ashore, appropriate assistance is provided to the survivor. The dog receives proper attention, a delicious recompense, and rewards for rescue.
But who are the actors of this incredible rescue?
They are the team from S.I.C.S., the school for rescue-at-sea and air-rescue in the marine environment in Italy, founded by Ferruccio Pilenga in 1989, an owner of a Newfoundland and volunteer in Italian Civil Protection, who decided to bring to front the innate qualities of the aforementioned dog breeds developing the ability to save. The activity with helicopters began in 1992 and a close collaboration with the Coast Guard and Air Force SAR brought to the official approval in 1996 by the authorities responsible for emergency, and also by the Ministry of Transport and Navigation. Today, the school has a headquarter and nine branches throughout the country. Qualified Trainers are operative at each one of them, and more than 200 water rescue dog K9 Units are active and patented.
According to Ferruccio, “Some races have an innate propensity for water and for saving, especially Newfoundland, Labrador and Golden Retriever. The challenge is to transform this instinct in a real capacity to rescue. Crucial is the unique and unrepeatable relationship between the dog and his handler. He must be able to train his dog, must also have the necessary passion for the rescue activities, and a lot of dedication because the training and the maintenance of the qualification require great efforts. Starting from these assumptions we at S.I.C.S. can transform the couple in an efficient and effective water rescue K-9 Unit, transferring them our knowledge, experience, skills and equipments.”
The training is long and includes several steps. It teaches the dog to swim faster. More difficult is to teach to swim in pairs with his handler without hindering or scratching him. So, the dog has to learn how to stand in water, how to position himself with respect to people in water, offering them his special life-jacket which people can grasp. He must learn to tow them to shore, and if necessary also drag a small boat.
The handler also receives adequate preparation: in addition to working with dog he learns to drive boat, handle equipments as transceivers and safety equipments, providing first aid and resuscitation actions.
The school, at the end of the training, issues a ‘S.I.C.S. Operative Water Rescue Certificate’, after successfully completing the most demanding test: demonstrate the ability to operate from a helicopter, jumping from it when it is hovering at 2-5 meters from the water, and of course carry out the rescue. The couple – man and dog – confirm to be synonymous of friendship, love and fidelity, both in water and air.