Fire department patrols river on bikes

By Laura Geller - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – With all the hot weather, thousands of people will make their way to the James River this weekend. When you're cooling off on Belle Isle, you may see something you've never seen before. The Richmond Fire Department has started a new initiative, in which bike teams educate river goers.

That program is in response to a trend fire officials said they needed to end. They noticed on summer weekends, the dive squad had been forced to pull people from the river too frequently.

Firefighters come to your rescue on trucks and ladders. They save swimmers from near drowning incidents in the raging rapids. Now, the fire department wants to get to Richmonders before a fun day on the river turns into a rescue situation.

Bike teams are hitting the trails and rocks every weekend from 1 p.m. until 9 p.m. When you see the teams firefighters ride by you on Belle Isle, feel free to ask them any questions. Their main goal is education.

"We also talk about safe practices," said Lt. Shawn Jones. "If we see something that people are doing that is unsafe, we use that as an educational opportunity to identify what is appropriate and what is inappropriate."

According to the department in their first two months patrolling, these bikers have talked to more than 400 people. Lt. Shawn Jones said the data shows the initiative is making a difference.

Last year between Memorial Day and the first weekend in August, the dive squad responded to 19 calls on the weekends. In the same time period this year, that number has gone down to only eight calls. That's a difference of more than fifty percent.

NBC12 stopped An-Li Hoban and Gayle Jones on their daily walk by the river. Both say they've been too afraid to bring their kids and grandkids down there. With news of the extra resources, that may change.

"If I knew that would be available to me, I would bring my kids down here; so I know there is somebody I could go to, just in case," said Hoban.

For more information on river levels and safety measures, click here.

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