Mudflats a deceptive danger

Apparently some people like wandering onto mudflats when the tide is out. It’s not a good idea. Here’s the story and photos I filed for The Tri-City News of rescue training on the mudflats of Port Moody Inlet by the Port Moody Fire Department.

It took just three steps for Rob Suzukovich to become hopelessly, and helplessly, stuck in the mudflats at the eastern end of Port Moody Inlet.
Fortunately, he’s a Port Moody fire captain who was taking part in a training exercise Thursday to give the city’s firefighters some practice extricating people who’ve wandered off the shoreline and into the heavy muck at low tide.
Port Moody fire chief Ron Coulson said that happens about twice a year.
He said the easy access to the flats from nearby trails, and the proximity of lots of residents and visitors to the city who may not be aware of the dangers of the mudflats make it imperative his crews keep their skills fresh.
He said the mudflats can be deceiving because when the tide is low they look no different than a soggy beach. But the mud is heavy with organic material and so saturated with water it creates an instant vacuum when unwary visitors step into it. That’s when the trouble starts.
“The harder you work to get out, you just sink deeper,” said Coulson of the process called liquefaction.
He said anyone who gets stuck in the ooze should stay calm until help arrives.
That help includes firefighters equipped with special plastic overshoes they strap onto their boots that allows them to walk on top of the muddy surface. They’ll also carry a spare pair of the overshoes for their victim, as well as a spinal board to provide a solid surface once that victim is extricated.
A high-power water pressure gun attached to 1.25-inch hoseline allows the firefighters to blast muck away from the victims legs, replacing it with water so they can be pulled out easier.
Suzokovich said the suction was immediate and overpowering.
“It’s very deceiving,” he said.
Coulson said visitors need to respect the signs warning them to stay off the mudflats at low tide.
“They don’t realize the danger,” he said. “And if the tide comes in, it can quickly turn tragic.”

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