River Dan­gers Are Real, Res­cue Team Stays Busy


The higher than nor­mal rain­fall sea­son that we had this past win­ter has of­fi­cially re­moved us from be­ing in a drought sit­u­a­tion; how­ever, it has also cre­ated a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion on our rivers. There have been sev­eral res­cue in­ci­dents on the river this year and the sum­mer has just be­gun. With temperatures over 100 de­grees for a num­ber of days in the fore­cast there may be more peo­ple head­ing out to cool off in the river. The dan­gers are real in the river with swift cur­rents, high wa­ter lev­els, and cold wa­ter; of­fi­cials warn that things can take a deadly turn in se­conds.

Just this past week, on June 14 there was a body re­cov­ered by Stanis­laus Con­sol­i­dated Fire Pro­tec­tion Dis­trict (SCFPD) boat 29 on the east side of the Knights Ferry cov­ered bridge around 9:45 a.m. The Coroner’s of­fice is in the process of mak­ing a pos­i­tive iden­ti­fi­ca­tion; the body was be­lieved to be that of an area res­i­dent who was swept away while swim­ming in the river in late May.

SCFPD Wa­ter Res­cue Cap­tain Paul Autry along with Cap­tain Zach Gardner es­tab­lished the Wa­ter Res­cue Team in 2009. Autry be­gan his ca­reer as an in­tern for the depart­ment in late 2003 and then was hired full time as an en­gi­neer in Fe­bru­ary 2006.

“In the past there had been a few at­tempts at es­tab­lish­ing a wa­ter res­cue team but they never re­ally suc­ceeded,” stated Autry. “I think there wasn’t such a need for it as it is now and they didn’t have the sup­port for it.”

Grow­ing up on wa­ter with lakes and boats, Autry was the per­fect fit to take the lead on es­tab­lish­ing the pro­gram.

“So we teamed up (Gardner and Autry) and started gath­er­ing old equip­ment that we had and scroung­ing up what­ever we could find and what­ever we could get to­gether to get some guys out on the wa­ter to start some train­ing,” ex­plained Autry. “So the wa­ter res­cues started go­ing smoother and our fire chief at the time started real­iz­ing that there was a need for it and that we were go­ing to be se­ri­ous about the pro­gram so we started get­ting sup­port from the dis­trict fi­nan­cially to start pur­chas­ing a lit­tle bit of equip­ment here and there.

“We got more equip­ment and more boats and from there we just took off.”

A few years ago Gardner and Autry checked into the par­tic­u­lars of be­com­ing an OES (Of­fice of Emer­gency Ser­vices) team, which took two more years of ad­di­tional train­ing and equip­ment. In March of 2016 they com­pleted all the nec­es­sary re- quire­ments and be­came the 12th team in Cal­i­for­nia. They have the abil­ity if the op­por­tu­nity arises to give mu­tual aid through­out the state or to other agen­cies that may need as­sis­tance or even around the world if needed.

There are ap­prox­i­mately 40 peo­ple on the team which has dif­fer­ent re­quire­ments now that they are an OES team, with sev­eral other hope­fuls on the wait­ing list.

The busy sea­son for the wa­ter res­cue team is typ­i­cally from May un­til Oc­to­ber due to the recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties peo­ple en­gage in on the river. Cur­rently the river is run­ning at about 3,000 cu­bic feet per sec­ond (CFS) which com­pares to last year at this time when the river was at 225 cu­bic feet per sec­ond. Autry ex­plained that the lev­els are about 15 times high than they were last year. The wa­ter tem­per­a­ture is about 50 de­grees and does not fluc­tu­ate much re­gard­less of the time of the year. The flow is at about 10 to 12 miles an hour and as an ex­am­ple Autry ex­plained that at three miles an hour if a per­son was to be stuck along­side the bank in the bushes or a boul­der there would be 180 pounds of pres­sure from the wa­ter on you.

All those things make the river dan­ger­ous for swim­mers and rafters even if you have a life jacket, he said. The rec­om­men­da­tion from Autry is to not swim or raft down the river. He sug­gests go­ing to the lake or a pool some­where other than the river. How­ever if you are go­ing to float down the river wear a life jacket and carry a cell phone in a wa­ter proof bag to call 911 if trou­ble arises. Also he sug­gests hav­ing a float plan by let­ting a fam­ily mem­ber or friend know where you are go­ing to start and stop on the river. If you do hap­pen to find your­self in trou­ble in the river Autry stated to flow down the river with your feet out in front of you like you were sit­ting in a lounge chair; that way you can push off boul­ders and bet­ter pro­tect your­self from ob­jects.

The lo­cal sur­face wa­ter res­cue team has al­ready had about 40 in­ci­dents this year.


In this train­ing sit­u­a­tion, the res­cue swim­mer has swum out to the vic­tim and brings them back to shore them us­ing a com­plex rope sys­tem.


The Stanis­laus Con­sol­i­dated Fire Pro­tec­tion Dis­trict wa­ter res­cue team has been out on the area’s rivers train­ing and re­spond­ing to in­ci­dents.

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