Water rescues? No problem for South Siskiyou emergency responders

Shareen Strauss
Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers
Firefighters from different local agencies called Siskiyou County Water Rescue Team train together in a swift water rescue class using their newly acquired boat. Learning how to navigate through swift water effectively will save lives.

After 10 years of work, Siskiyou County Fire Department agencies along with CAL FIRE and Mountain Medics have created a new well trained and equipped water rescue team.

CAL FIRE Siskiyou Unit Captain Casey Cohen has been one of the driving forces behind building the Siskiyou County Water Rescue Team. 

Siskiyou County Water Rescue Team trained  during the first week of May pulling victims out of the water using their new boats in a swift water rescue class. The team is made up of firefighters from different agencies throughout the county.

“We go on about 15 to 20 water rescues a year,” Cohen said. “Now with COVID-19, water recreation in Siskiyou County has increased and we are expecting more rescues. We are excited that all the different agencies are working together under the same guidelines and performance standards.” 

Swift water rescues are common as Siskiyou County has many waterways for recreation.  Along with the lakes, rivers including the Klamath, Sacramento, Scott, Salmon, Shasta and McCloud are popular destination spots for fishing, inner tubing, kayaking, and swimming, which can be  dangerous in swift waters. There are also lakes like Castle Lake that are popular all year round with people ice fishing, skating or skiing across it when it freezes over. 

Two months ago, California Service Area 3 (CSA3) funded the Swift Water Rescue Team with four inflatable boats. Three of the boats are for lake and swift water rescues and one boat is an ice rescue boat. These boats will be stored at different locations around Siskiyou County for quick retrieval in case of an emergency. The team will respond anywhere in Siskiyou County as well as the Castella area of Shasta County. 

“Casey has been trying to get this team together since 2007,” said Siskiyou CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Keith Cummings. “He reached out to Battalion Chief Sean Norman of Butte County CAL FIRE who is an instructor. Because we are responding to so many incidents, it is imperative to have a highly skilled team that is trained to work together for effective rescues. Representatives from  multiple departments will have continuity working together. We will train together quarterly though individual departments will also train monthly.”

Siskiyou County Water Rescue Team trained  during the first week of May pulling victims out of the water using their new boats in a swift water rescue class. The team is made up of firefighters from different agencies throughout the county.

Dunsmuir-Castella Fire Department Captain Pat Hines said that participating with the different fire agencies throughout the county will be a benefit for Siskiyou citizens and the visitors that come to this area for outdoor water recreation. 

Tyler Jones, a firefighter with the Weed City Fire Department is taking the four-day swift water rescue class and says that having these skills will be a great asset for river rescues. He advises people to “always tell someone where you will be when going to the river. Wear your lifejacket and always go with a partner.”