Wading the Waters: Learning about the crews that dive into danger

Updated: May. 18, 2023 at 3:00 PM EDT
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BOTETOURT COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - A day of fun on the water can quickly take a turn. That’s why departments across Southwest Virginia train swift water rescue teams so they can pull you from a rising disaster.

One of those teams that throws a lifeline in a time of crisis comes from Botetourt County Fire & EMS.

“Swiftwater rescue is one of the most dangerous things we do,” Captain Jeremy Bennington said.

Botetourt County crews respond to flooding events, but also jump in if your float or paddle becomes dangerous.

“Hundreds and hundreds of people are on the James River throughout Botetourt every day during the summer, during nice weather. And we respond to way more of those calls of kayakers in distress, people lost on the river,” Bennington said.

That’s why Bennington and others with the special operations team travel to Carvins Cove to train, even on rainy days.

“We’re getting these new guys up to speed just on basic stuff, boat operation, using throw bags, getting them out into the water and getting their hands dirty a little bit,” Bennington said.

One person plunging into the skill-building exercise is Deputy Chief Jeff Powell.

“We know that this is a life-and-death business,” Powell said.

These professionals don’t take chances; instead, they practice for those worst-case scenarios.

“Our special operations team completes monthly team training. But the training doesn’t stop there,” Powell said. “Many of us are in the pool every week, working hard to stay fit, and stay ready for water emergencies such as this.”

However, the best protection is to be prepared. That means making a float plan whether you are tubing or kayaking and checking the forecast before your adventure.

“So just being smart about the environment that you’re going out in, whether it be on flat water or moving water or even just driving down the road. Knowing where you’re headed out in, knowing what the weather conditions have been, and being prepared to be out into that environment,” Emergency Manager Daniel Murray said.

That preparation can mean the difference between a rescue and a recovery. Because even though this team is ready to pull you out of a crisis, they hope you can prevent that potential for tragedy before you make a splash.