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Philip Turnbull



AMR Josephine County

Imagine watching a car submerged in a river and having the sudden realization that there is nothing you can do. For Rural Metro’s Chief Philip Turnbull this was not just an imaginary event but one that would have a profound impact on his life. While white water rafting in the early nineties, Chief Turnbull saw a car submerged in the river and realized that even as a member of a first response team, there were really no tools or protocols in place to assist in this type of rescue. Fortunately, the car was unoccupied, but Chief Turnbull realized how an event like this could easily have tragic results.

“It was when I started doing research for tools that could assist in water rescues that I discovered Rescue 3,” Turnbull said.

Rescue 3 International was founded in 1979 after a California search and rescue team nearly lost one of its own during a water rescue. Their mission is to provide flood, water and rope rescue training to individuals and organizations. Rescue 3 is the recognized leader in water and flood rescue, training over 300,000 students worldwide. As Chief Turnbull began to learn more about Rescue 3, he became intrigued at the lifesaving training they provide and wanted to become a part of it. All of Rescue 3’s instructors are professionals working in the disciplines they teach. Instructors include paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement officers, search and rescue team members, as well as river guides and military personnel. With Chief Turnbull’s experience, he was a perfect fit.

While Rescue 3’s instructors come from a wide variety of fields, they all share a passion for saving lives and teaching others to do the same. With his level of professional experience, Chief Turnbull decided to become a part-time instructor for Rescue 3. Eventually he would go on to develop and teach curriculum that would be used around the world.

Chief Turnbull began his affiliation with Rescue 3 in 1990. The success of the program led USAID to Rescue 3 with a unique proposition. USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, leads international development and humanitarian efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance and help people progress beyond assistance. USAID was funding an effort to improve disaster response in South Asia.

Because of the partnership between USAID and Rescue 3, and as part of the Program for Enhancement of Emergency Response, or PEER as it is more commonly known, Chief Turnbull met with representatives from across the globe to bring the Swift Water Rescue Course to South Asia in early May of 2018. Swift Water Rescue is a five-day course that covers river crossing, search and rescue techniques, pre-hospital treatment, immobilization and transportation of victims and scenario-based day/night simulation exercises. So Chief Turnbull headed to Nepal where he would deliver this first-of-its-kind training. Class attendees came from every part of the globe. Most of the participants were military, police or fire service officers and some were emergency management executives. “I’ve been teaching for Rescue 3 for almost 30 years,” explains Turnbull, “but only in places that can afford the high cost of an international instructor.” “What makes this program different is that USAID is picking up the cost of travel, venue and logistics, while Rescue 3 has provided USAID with copyright free access to its curriculum.”

This pilot course was aimed at the first responder. USAID officials hope the participants will want the course brought to their home countries as the first step in building internal capacity and eventually an international mutual aid system. “Staff and students alike were highly intelligent, disciplined professionals, but forward movement is a real struggle for them,” explained Turnbull. “Not only do they lack resources and access to basic training, they also face many cultural and governmental constraints.”

“In a region of the world that experiences an unusually high number of flood related deaths, some of the participants clearly suffered from PTSD as they relayed horrific stories of entire villages being swept away by floodwater,” Turnbull added. The overall goal of the program is to train first responders so they can go back to their countries and train others as well as help educate their communities. In regions where there are no early warning systems, it is important that first responders and the communities they serve learn how to recognize the safety hazards and take actions to prevent them.

For over 39 years, Chief Turnbull has served the residents of Josephine County. His vision and desire to improve the safety to not only his local community but communities across the world is undeniable. Chief Turnbull’s one piece of advice—get involved and start local. “While I fell into this highly visible experience and am grateful for the opportunity, there is a seemingly endless array of social needs lying at our doorsteps.”

Chief Turnbull has made a difference not only in his community but around the world.