By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
Although this year’s dry spell has kept the San Diego River relatively safe, city leaders and first responder agencies are taking a proactive approach to any future rescues that may come when the flooding returns.
On Feb. 13, Councilmember Scott Sherman, along with representatives from San Diego Fire-Rescue, San Diego Lifeguard and CalFire unveiled a plan to create seven access points in difficult-to-get-to areas of the river.
During a press conference at one of the access points located just behind Premier Inns, 2484 Hotel Circle Place in Mission Valley, Sherman said water rescues are an issue the city has dealt with for a long while. The other six sites are located along the stretch of the river from the Morena District to Grantville.
“It’s not rained much this year so we haven’t seen any of these issues but you have to remember back to last January to the flooding issues. We had to evacuate the hotel down here,” Sherman said. “A lot of times we have homeless issues here where people end up in the river and have to be rescued and having to go up and down the river a half a mile trying to find a place to get to the water and then get to the victim is very difficult. And then extracting them with all this choking debris and non-native species, really puts our first responders at risk.”
San Diego Fire-Rescue Chief Brian Fennessy described the access area program as “a big deal” for first responders who have always faced challenges in any kind of work they do along the river.
“I used to work many years ago in one of the local fire stations and we used to respond down here on a regular basis, whether it be for fires, rescues or medical calls and it was very difficult to access,” Fennessy said. “You just look around and wonder, ‘How am I going to get 50 feet in either direction?’”
San Diego Lifeguard Chief Rick Wurtz said that in the area near the Premier Inns access point, there were 62 rescues last year. Up and down the river, there were an additional 25 more.
“For lifeguards, swift water rescues are some of the most dangerous types of rescues we’re involved with,” Wurtz said. “Having accesses like this where we can get down to key locations where we can access other parts of the river and deploy rescue boats to assist us in those rescues, not only helps victims, but us first responders as well.”
Sherman praised San Diego River Conservancy for help in getting the access point program off the ground and for keeping costs low by sharing the agency’s permits needed for removing excessive vegetation.
CalFire Chief Nick Shular also praised the partnership of the city, county and state fire-rescue groups.
“This is a prime example of the benefits of inter-agency cooperation and collaboration,” Shular said.
— Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.