TUCSON, Ariz. — Seven agencies within the Southern Arizona Technical Rescue Group are training in water accident management; one of the many area firefighters must train in to prepare for swift water rescues.
“We practice some swimming techniques when we’re going out to victims. We practice how to protect ourselves against victims that are in despair and that latch onto us,” said Joseph Noriega, a suppression captain with Tucson Fire Department.
All firefighters get trained in some form of swift water emergency, and they keep the training fresh no matter how active or inactive monsoon may turn out to be.
Tucson Fire reported the number of swift water rescue calls for 2019 was at 20; for 2020, that number went down to eight. The amount of stranded in water calls decreased as well, with 21 calls in 2019 going down to four calls in 2020.
“The monsoon last year was kind of, for the most part, non-existent. We were short on rainfall, but we still have to be prepared. Every year, we never know. This year’s projected to be a litter higher rainfall totals,” said Noriega.
Last year, even though there wasn’t significant rainfall, TFD did record two deaths due to a storm.
And in the Tucson area, year after year, crews typically get called to the same locations after seeing heavy rainfall.
“Just on the Eastside, we can point out Alamo Wash being one of them. If you’re looking to Southside then we’re looking more like Rodeo Wash. And then always Santa Cruz, the Rillito. Those places can always cause us problems,” said Noriega.
To make sure you don’t run into problems during a heavy storm, Capt. Noriega had this to say, “Be safe out there. Obviously, if there is a roadblock or if there is any question about it, don’t cross it. And then be aware of weather conditions out there. So even though it may not be raining in your immediate area, watch the weather and you can expect washes to be flooded in areas that are not experiencing rain.”
The next step to training will be going out to the Salt River to do practice with more water flow.