Inside swift-water rescues

SAFD Technical Rescue Team walks KSAT through drills


SAN ANTONIO – It was a busy week for the San Antonio Fire Department's Swift Water Rescue Teams.

Heavy rains drenched parts of the city, turning dry creeks and low water crossings into raging rivers.

Between Monday and Thursday, firefighters responded to nine high-water rescue calls, pulling at least two people to safety. It was one of the most active periods the teams had seen in quite awhile.

To make sure they are ready to respond to high-water rescue calls at any moment, members of the department's Technical Rescue Team go up to the Comal River in New Braunfels once a year to refresh and fine tune their water rescue skills.

"It's hard to simulate what we're really going to face out there, so we do our best out here," said Capt. Will Pritchett. "But what we're facing in a water emergency is often times worse. This is one of the best places we have to practice what we do."

Pritchett said team members practice chasing down victims in rushing water and reeling them in with ropes. They also learn how to rescue themselves by working as a team to right a capsized boat and overcoming obstacles in the water to simulate debris that could be floating in flood waters.

"It gives you respect for the water more than anything, so we don't grow complacent or underestimate the danger," Pritchett said. "Every time we come out here, it's a reminder of how powerful that water is."

Pritchett said long dry spells increase the danger for rescuers and citizens. Many people forget how dangerous low-water crossings are and often try to drive through them at their own peril.

"Every single time it floods, you hear about someone getting stuck, often times people getting killed," Pritchett said. "It's not worth it, there's nothing worth crossing the low-water crossings."

According to the firefighters, water rescues are one of the most dangerous things they do -- there's just so many factors they can't control and every time they go into the water, they're putting their own lives in danger.

That's why they urge people to avoid fast moving water.

"These guys are here and they are willing to put their life on the line for anyone but I don't want them to have to do that if they don't have to," Pritchett said. "I think we can avoid that by keeping people out of the water crossings and remembering that it's very deadly. It's so avoidable and so simple if people just heed the warnings."

According to SAFD, if you go around a barricade and end up in the water and need to be rescued it will cost you $400 per person in the vehicle.

The driver can also be charged with a misdemeanor that could result in a $2,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail.

For a list of recent stories Tim Gerber has done, click here.

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