Richmond Fire adds second water rescue team

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - More eyes are watching the James River this summer.  Richmond's Swift Water Rescue Team is running so many calls, the Fire Department has now added a second crew to cover more ground and help more people.

The original Swift Water Rescue Team still operates out of the Rescue 1 fire station in Church Hill, but a second team is now based out of the fire station on Forest Hill Avenue not too far from several key areas of the James River Park.

Richmond's newest Swift Water Rescue Team took us out on the James in a raft at Pony Pasture to show us the ropes.

"Say like today if somebody fell out here and busted their head on a rock, we would come out here on this particular boat and take them to shore," said Lt. Carroll Smith.

Around 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, there were no issues as the water was calm and pretty low, coming in around 4 feet, but this crew has been busy this summer.

"So far this year, we went in service May 1st, and we've run 25 river calls already," Smith said.

The team out of the Forest Hill Station operates in cooperation with the one in Church Hill, which alone ran 85 calls last year, Smith said.  The James River is so big, those calls come in from a number of different spots, mostly spots closer to Forest Hill.

"A lot of the calls on swift water happen here at Pony Pasture or off of Belle Island at the Hollywood Rapids," Smith said.

Evidence of the need for two teams is not hard to find.  Two summers ago, four teenage boys became stranded on a rock at Pony Pasture.  The current was too strong for them to make it back to shore and they needed rescue. Just last month, NBC12 covered a number of rescues including a late night situation at the Robert E. Lee Bridge when a man swam into deep waters and got stuck on a rock.  And just last week, three people were rescued from the James just north of Tredegar Street in the middle of a powerful storm.

"The idea of a second team is we can get to some locations quicker, plus we are a back up if something happens, and they are out on a call, you still have a second team," Smith said.

"I've got a lot more respect for the river than I had before," he said. "The water is powerful, I don't care how good a swimmer you are, you can't beat these rapids."

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