STOCKTON (CBS13) — During hot summer days is when boaters, swimmers and fisherman head to the water to cool off, making it a busy time for area firefighters.
Accidents along the San Joaquin River happen every year from capsized boats to swimmers swept away by strong currents.
Firefighters from the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District are gearing up for another warm weekend as many families make their way to area rivers and lakes.
“What people don’t realize is that the water levels are still moving fast, high and cold because of the snow melt from the Sierra,” said Josh Capper, acting battalion chief, Lathrop-Manteca Fire District.
Twelve of the firefighters from the district make up the dive team. They are a special unit well-trained in search and recovery. The team covers 40 miles of rivers and up to 12 area lakes.
“It’s one of those services that is rare throughout the state, “he said.
Underwater, divers face a lot of challenges from zero visibility to the possibility of having communication interference between divers and firefighters on the surface. They can also run into boaters who may not always recognize when there’s a dive emergency underway.
“It’s a pretty efficient and fluid operation,” said Stockton Fire Chief Erik Newman.
In Stockton, about fifty firefighters are used for water emergencies and the chief is looking to add even more members to the dive team.
“We also assist law enforcement agencies as it relates to evidence that may be thrown in the water, bodies that may be underwater,” said Newman.
The city recently increased the Stockton Fire Department’s budget to cover special operations like the dive team. The chief says new hires will be trained in water search and rescue, hazmat and in the department’s tactical medic program as they continue saving lives.
“Our department is turned over tremendously over the last year. We want to try and capture that legacy and institutional knowledge so the new guys that are getting trained can get pass on some important tricks of the trade,” he said.