Warmer than normal temperatures this year have set off Colorado’s annual snowmelt a few weeks early. And, because of that, federal data is forecasting statewide streamflow to be 86 percent of average for the 2022 season. Even so, Colorado’s creeks and rivers will see rising water levels with fast moving, icy currents that could pose extreme danger for anyone who ventures out into the rushing water.
“It’s so powerful that even in just a couple of feet of water you can easily be swept off your feet and carried downstream,” said West Metro Captain Dan Wenger. “And the water is snowmelt – it’s freezing cold, which drains your energy and your ability to self-rescue. Our advice is don’t get in the water unless you’re properly trained and have the appropriate equipment, like a personal flotation device or life jacket.”
West Metro firefighters train each year to be prepared for swift water rescues. The firefighters learn the basics of swimming in fast-moving water, how to maneuver around obstacles like rocks or tree limbs and how to self-rescue. They also practice deploying rescue ropes that are used to pull victims out of the water.
“Most people don’t realize just how dangerous the water is until they’re in it, and then it’s too late,” said Wenger. “The power of the water can be terrifying, a life-or-death situation. And that’s the reason we train – to keep our skills sharp so that we’re ready to respond if needed.”
Although swift water is usually associated with creeks and rivers, it can be any form of moving water. That includes ponds, lakes, reservoirs and flooded areas. And even slow-moving water can cause fatalities if a person can’t swim, or they aren’t wearing a personal flotation device or life jacket.
West Metro Fire Rescue advises anyone who falls in moving water to try and float with your feet downstream in the direction you’re going. That will allow you to protect yourself and absorb the shock of hitting the obstacles in the way.
If you see someone fall in, try to throw a rope, or extend a tree branch to them, but do not get in the water yourself. If you can’t facilitate a rescue, make sure you can give a clear description to the 911 dispatcher of where you are and where you last saw the person.
“We have so many people that enjoy the water – kayakers, people who fish, people who tube down the rivers,” said Wenger. “We’re not asking them to stay out of the water. What we want is for them to be safe.”
Ronda Scholting is Public Information Officer for West Metro Fire Rescue.