Water rescue teams anticipated busy summer

Local News

A pandemic, closed pools, and more people are at the lakes. These are a few reasons why local first responders and dive teams say they’ve had to be more prepared than ever this summer.

Two recent drownings at Wall Lake have put the focus on safety at lakes, rivers, and other natural bodies of water. More people are using them to get outside during this unique COVID-19 summer. We’re talking with the fire department and county emergency management about what they’re watching and how something last year got them ready for this year.

Some of the beaches we normally go to to escape the world, now hold reminders of tragedy.

“We’re just getting a lot more people at the lakes. Typically, at the lakes, we don’t have lifeguards, so we don’t have that watchful eye looking out for everybody,” Michael Olson, Water Rescue Instructor for Sioux Falls Fire Rescue, said.

Due to COVID-19 closing city pools, Olson says first responders expected a busier season at the beaches.

“It’s a whole different ballpark. Because, once again, you start shallow and then you don’t know where a hole may have formed because of the current. You don’t know where a drop-off may be. The water around here is typically dirty, so you can’t see in it,” Olson said.

That means Sioux Falls Fire Rescue Urban Search and Rescue knows it might be needed for more calls than usual.

“We’re always ready, obviously. We have our water gear sitting on the truck ready to go. We’re monitoring the county radios,” Olson said.

“It is concerning,” Jason Gearman, Minnehaha County emergency manager, said.

Gearman says county officials are trying to add safety measures, including a life jacket program. He says, coincidentally, last year’s flooding and expecting more floods this year, mean first responders were anticipating the potential for more water rescues.

“We got really lucky last year, we didn’t have any drownings associated specifically with flooding and fast moving water,” Gearman said.

Both Gearman and Olson say people who are swimming here have to be on guard.

“Personal safety is probably number one. Make sure you are wearing a PFD or a life jacket,” Olson said.

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