Gresham, Corbett fire crews join forces to save lives on Sandy River

The last few summers have been deadly on the river with seven people drowning since 2019.
Published: Jun. 16, 2022 at 12:33 PM PDT
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MULTNOMAH COUNTY, Ore. (KPTV) - Corbett Fire and Gresham Fire announced they are combining forces to save lives this year on the Sandy River. The last few summers have been deadly on the river with seven people drowning since 2019.

Every year, swimmers ignore the dangers of the Sandy River at their own peril. And every year, first responders give out warnings to boaters, swimmers and waders.

This year, there’s a new approach - and new tools - to try to prevent another season of deadly drownings on the cold, swift dangerous river.

Gresham Fire showed FOX 12 its new jet ski. It can maneuver even in shallow water, which their current rescue boats couldn’t do.

“A gamechanger to the rescues and finding victims and what not on the Sandy River,” said Reggy Becker with Gresham Fire.

Another tool crews will be using: an AquaEye. It’s an underwater sonar scanner that can locate victims quickly. First responders can wade into the water from the shore and use this tool to look for and identify drowning victims. It should speed up rescues immeasurably.

Corbett and Gresham crews gave FOX 12 a demonstration Thursday morning. The high tech device took just one minute to locate another person in the river.

The incredible amount of time both the AquaEye and the jet ski saves should mean more lives saved.

Firefighters said the two tools might well have saved a father and his 7-year-old daughter who drowned on the Sandy River last July because it took too much time to rescue them.

“We feel that this would be the answer to that. We were searching for something after that event because it hits all of us with something like that. We all have children at home, and that’s a tough one to swallow,” said Corbett Fire Chief Rick Wunsch.

Of course, people are most likely to stay safe in the first place if they wear a life jacket. Of the seven drownings in the river over the last few year, six were not wearing life jackets and most of them were children.

This year, Corbett Fire and Gresham Fire will be putting up four new life jacket stands along the Sandy River. More than 100 new life jackets that can be easily borrowed and returned.

“We have them in multiple sizes, adults all the way down to infants. This river is really different from a lot of other rivers - moves fast, extremely cold. Even experienced swimmers should be wearing life jackets in this river,” said Dave Selden with Corbett Fire.

The fire crews told FOX 12 that no one should wade, swim or boat in the Sandy River without wearing a life jacket. The river is exceedingly high this year because of the heavy rains and snow melt, there are steep drop-offs, and rock and tree limbs can catch you off guard.