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Rescuers ready to brave dangerous water when storms trap hikers

Posted at 2:50 PM, Jun 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-24 23:04:15-04

In moments, a monsoon storm can turn dry washes in the Santa Catalina Mountains and other ranges around Tucson into torrents of water and debris which can be dangerous, even deadly, for someone trapped in them.

When hikers call for help the men and women who rush into action are volunteers from the Southern Arizona Rescue Association.

Leading up to and during the monsoon season teams train for just every possible rescue they'll be called to this summer. The most common are calls from hikers who are either lost, injured, or trapped on the other side of a wash full of rushing water.

“They won’t be in any danger, but they'll feel trapped because they can't get back through. And that's where they panic and either try and cross a river crossing that's too high or they'll call for rescue,” explained James Corbin, SARA’s Medical Director.

Most often the water will drop almost as quickly as it rose Corbin says being patient is the safest decision.  When they do have to pull someone from moving water it is extremely dangerous.

“Water is a dynamic it’s always moving and it’s always unpredictable,” Corbin said.

A rescuer's standard water rescue gear includes, a helmet, weskit, life vest, even a knife to cut away anything that might entangle someone. 

Corbin says rescuers are most often deployed because people are overcome by the heat even desert natives.

“When the monsoons come through what happens is the dew point rises so what happens is you don’t shed heat as well because the humidity is higher and people who do great in June will go hiking in July and August and they'll become heat casualties.”

SARA conducts training year round Corbin says because as long as there are people on the trails rescuers must be ready.