Swiftwater rescue action has been fast and furious recently for the Somervell County Fire Department, as well as for the Somervell County Sheriff’s Office.
SCFD Fire Chief Mark Crawford said that during a span of only about a week, starting with June 23, there were five successful swiftwater rescues in Somervell County.
June 23 was when a powerful storm crashed through the area (see related article in this issue of the Glen Rose Reporter). That evening, first responders were called to a spot on the Brazos River, east of Glen Rose, where two adults and three children were stranded on rocks after their fun day of tubing was ruined.
Somervell County offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy tubing, canoeing and boating, but sometimes things go a little sideways — or even upside down.
Sometimes visitors less familiar with the characteristics of the Paluxy and Brazos rivers may not be prepared when the water flow can ramp up to an unexpected pace.
It’s nothing new for the first responders, especially this time of the tourism cycle — just after school gets out for the summer, and before the hottest time of the summer. In fact, Crawford noted that there was one weekend two years ago that the SCFD made 19 water rescues.
Starting with that June 23 storm and continuing through June 29, the SCFD made five separate water rescues.
“We have 12 boat technicians, and 24 certified swiftwater technicians,” said Crawford, who added that the SCFD has two rescue boats and one hovercraft. “The department is blessed to have people in the division willing to train and be prepared to go out at night and deal with the cold rain and the mosquitoes to find these visitors from outside the community who don’t always understand our rivers and how dangerous they can be. We were lucky that with all five incidents that nobody was hurt seriously or lost, as we have had in years past.”
Recent storms, adding to the fact that area rivers were already at high levels because of ample rain in recent months, present even greater risks for those who venture into waterways.
The Somervell County Sheriff’s Office also makes numerous water rescues, utilizing its rescue boat and four members of its Swift Water Rescue Team — Constable Mike Reynolds, Sgt. Stephen Gibson, Chief Deputy Dwayne Griffin and Sheriff Alan West.
SCFD members Scott Burgess, an engineer/paramedic, and his shift partner Mandy Bradford along with volunteer Clint Beaty, who is also a DPS trooper, responded to one recent call that almost ended in tragedy.
Two women in their early 20s were tubing near the Brazos River bridge off U.S. Highway 67 east of Glen Rose when one of the tubes flipped over because the water was getting rough. When they arrived, the two were tethered to the shore — one barely.
“One of them was holding on by one hand by a rope,” Burgess said, explaining that a “rope bag” was tossed to the woman in peril and she was pulled to safety as all three recusers coordinated their efforts.
Fortunately, there were plenty of swiftwater rescue personnel on hand that evening.
“Normally we have five to six on shift. That night we had four paid (SCFD members) and several volunteers and off-duty personnel to help,” Burgess said. “They showed up, and without them we couldn’t have done what we did. I honestly believe that, on that one if we hadn’t (had the extra help) we’d probably (have been) doing a body recovery. She was about to give up.”
Burgess said the volunteers, including those like Beaty who have full-time jobs elsewhere, also provide added layers of safety for the county.
“The volunteers train as hard as our paid guys,” said Burgess, a former member of the Crowley Fire Department who moved to Somervell County from Watauga last October. “I see people here all the time acting unselfishly and giving. I know on my shift they are here because they want to help and they want to sacrifice.”