Richmond posting new river safety signs along James

By Gene Petriello - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Lately, Richmond rescue crews are finding themselves rescuing more and more people on the James River.

That's why the fire department, together with parks and recreation, is putting up new safety signs.

Already this year, more people have died from drowning on the James River than all of last year. That's why the city starting a new campaign encouraging you to wear that life vest, despite the fact the water here is below five feet.

One woman now has 13 people to thank for saving her life. Strangers formed a human chain to save her, after being knocked unconscious a few days ago. She wasn't wearing a life vest.

"Without a doubt, if they didn't help her, she would have drowned," says Lt. Shawn Jones with the Richmond Fire Department. 

She's lucky, but others aren't.

Lt. Shawn Jones with the Richmond Fire Department says within the last 30 days, there have been two drowning's, and the water level is below five feet.

So now these new signs are popping up --- appropriately saying, "Wear it Richmond."  It's all a campaign, encouraging you to wear a life vest.

It's encouragement Michael Reid Menting is listening to.

"I think you should always wear your life vest and respect the power of the water," says Menting.

Michael says heading down to the James is something he does all the time and he knows about the power of the river all too well. Years ago, a friend of his drowned out here.

"You could jump in the water here, get caught in a rip current and wind up a half a mile down the river," he adds.

"The river's bottom is uneven. You may be able to walk out on the river today, but in 30 minutes, there could be a hole out there that's bigger than five feet," says Lt. Jones.

Some people like David Smith don't agree with wearing a life vest, if it's not required and you're a good swimmer. But he admits, if you aren't familiar with the river, you should be wearing one.

We did notice though, some of the signs are posted pretty far away from the water. "We are going to work to make sure they are in a visible location. Right now, they may not be in an area where people can see them but we are going to try to move them and get more bang for our buck," says Lt. Jones.

Even better news: You are going to notice a lot more of those signs popping up along the river banks in the coming days and months.

The Fire Department says they actually expect to surpass the number of river rescue calls this year compared to the number they received last year.

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