Recently, some people had to be rescued after being trapped by a fallen tree on the river. Courtesy photo.

Firefighters from Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue and from Corrales Fire Department have recently been dispatched to several incidents of people becoming stranded or injured while floating in the Rio Grande, and are recommending precautions for individuals using the river for recreation.

Although the water flow in the river has yet to reach the peak run-off flows, the Rio Grande still poses a significant danger to boaters, rafters and swimmers.

Many of the incidents involve the use of flotation devices meant for a swimming pool, not a river. Without the ability to steer the craft to avoid debris in the water, these people end up hung up on trees or caught in hidden obstacles under the water.

“People underestimate the power of water,” said Rio Rancho Fire Chief Paul Bearce. “Even moderate flow rates can knock down an adult and hold them under the water,” he added.

Members of both agencies have seen many people using the river not only with inappropriate flotation devices, but also without wearing a personal flotation device or life jacket. The use of life jackets is required by the state and, due to the dangers present on the river, rafters and others are taking a significant risk of injury or death when they choose not to wear one.

When rescuers arrive at these incidents, they are often faced with adults and frightened children hanging on to branches of downed trees or stuck on a sandbar, unable to cross the moving water. Firefighters must deploy boats and kayaks to shuttle them to shore. In extreme situations, fire personnel may swim to victims, which creates a danger for these first responders.

To stay safe while recreating in the waters of the Rio Grande, Rio Rancho and Corrales firefighters recommend that anyone who chooses to float on the river do so in a craft designed for use in moving water. This can be a kayak, canoe, raft or shallow-bottom boat.

The use of oars or paddles will help the boater steer to avoid the dangers present all along the river. Use of a personal flotation device is required for everyone in the boat.

Swimming in the Rio Grande is highly discouraged. The presence of sunken debris poses a risk of injuries and being caught and dragged under the water by the current.

Both departments have responded to injured boaters this year, and performed body recoveries of people in years past.

River-mile markers are along the Rio Grande’s west bank from the US 550 bridge, south through Albuquerque. Knowing your location on the river if you need to call for assistance greatly helps responders locate you.

“My crews have had to assist seven people to safety so far this season, all of whom were using pool flotation devices,” Corrales Fire Chief Anthony Martinez said. “You can still end up needing to be rescued when using the appropriate craft and PFDs; however, both of these greatly help lessen danger to you while on the river.”