Person air-lifted after water rescue; crews warn of dangers on James River

Published: Jun. 19, 2018 at 10:22 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 19, 2018 at 11:12 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Tuesday's heat had plenty of people heading out on the water. Rescue crews are issuing a warning to everyone planning to enjoy the James River this summer.

There have been more than 50 water rescues this year alone - fast approaching all of last year's total - which is why crews are coming up with new ways to keep you safe.

Richmond Fire was busy with two calls for water rescues on Tuesday, including one at Texas Beach, where an adult male had to be air-lifted to VCU Medical Center.

"Water rescues always start to increase as school starts letting out," said Captain Mark Wagner with Richmond Water Rescue.

To combat the growing number of water rescues, Wagner and his team are implementing what they call the "Belle Isle initiative" - a program Wagner says had a big impact on the water rescues last year.

"Instead of having one water rescue technician and one bike medic, we actually have one of our water rescue setups - which is a tow vehicle and two rafts," said Wagner.

All summer long, three people will be stationed at Belle Isle between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays, patrolling the waters to respond to water rescues as soon as they happen.

"That puts a boat team right there at it," said Wagner. "If they're at the correct end of the island, they can use the throw bags. They can also launch the boats from the east end of the island, so the response time is tremendously cut down - you're talking several minutes."

According to Richmond Fire, there were 78 total calls recorded for water rescues last year. This year, there's been 55 rescue calls recorded, with the number of deaths almost twice as much as last year.

To reduce the risk of incidents on the James, Richmond Fire urges everyone - no matter how experienced - to wear a life jacket in the water and to stay sober on the water.

"People are out enjoying things, and they just don't understand the power and the significance of the James River," said Wagner.

Richmond Parks and Recreation is working with police on an ordinance to mandate the use of life jackets when the James reaches above a certain level.

Richmond Fire says that ordinance could be put in place later this year.

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