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Augusta's water rescue team responds to river, canal distress

Sunday, Aug 4, 2013 6:38 PM
Last updated Monday, Aug 5, 2013 7:07 AM
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With a summer of rapid rainfall, storms and a higher, faster Savannah River, the water rescue squad at Fire Station One has been on the go.

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Lt. John Cawley (right) and Sgt. Gavin Guilfoyle, inflate a raft nicknamed the "banana boat" at Fire Station 1 on Broad Street in Augusta on Monday. The raft is one of the tools used by water rescue teams.   EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Lt. John Cawley (right) and Sgt. Gavin Guilfoyle, inflate a raft nicknamed the "banana boat" at Fire Station 1 on Broad Street in Augusta on Monday. The raft is one of the tools used by water rescue teams.

“It seems like the 4:30 or 5 o’clock call,” Special Operations Chief Wayne Taylor said. “We’re like, all right, it’s water rescue time.”

Closing the river to boating activity early last month was supposed to keep problems to a minimum, but firefighters said the warnings were often ignored.

So far, the firefighters at the Broad Street and East Boundary station have received 18 calls for assistance and 11 people were rescued from the water. During the same period in 2012, the fire station received 20 calls and made 10 rescues.

The team said not all calls require rescue. Some involved boaters who are stranded after breaking down, and a lot are false alarms or “panic calls” when the sun starts to go down.

One of the most recent rescues occurred July 17 when four teenagers found themselves in trouble on the river. Three of the teens were in a raft with the fourth hanging off the side when help arrived. All of the teens were fully clothed and none was wearing a life jacket.

“(The float) really belongs in a swimming pool for kids,” said Lt. John Cawley.

After the teens were taken to safety, he made a few comments about water safety, but it was Taylor who took it a step further.

“I gave them a sermon when I caught up to them on the levee road,” said the special operations chief, who took their information and called their parents. The parents, however, had not heard the same story that he told.

Such inexperienced boating has the fire department concerned.

“Folks just aren’t aware of the dangers out there,” Taylor said.

With hypothermia as a constant threat, Taylor said, there’s limited time to make a rescue. Information is sometimes very limited.

When calls come from a cellphone, dispatchers can usually get only brief information before the signal is lost or the phone slips into the water. Often, too, people aren’t even aware of where they are.

For a while, there was a problem with people taking inflatable mattresses on the river, but that seems to have died down.

“I’m sure there are emergencies out there that we never hear about,” said Sgt. Gavin Guilfoyle.

WATER SAFETY TIPS

• Take a partner

• Wear a life jacket

• If you go alone, tell someone you’re going and where you’ll be and schedule a check-in time.

• Be aware of the dangers beforehand.


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