Last week, crews from the Northwest Fire District’s Technical Rescue Team participated in a rescue drill off the Cortaro Bridge.

The annual training exercise also coincides with the end of the monsoon season when firefighters, like David Arneson, tend to see more people needing to be rescued.

“As we approach this time of year, people start to become a little complacent with the barricades. They have been dealing with them for a month an half now,” Arneson said. “People start to take a little more risks.

“I think also what we are seeing is that the washes have become saturated with water, so therefore it doesn’t take a whole lot when the city starts pouring water into this wash to get it to roar that much faster.”

The scenario that was staged last week was identical to one Northwest and Tucson Fire dealt with last year, where a victim got into the water and was hung up on a pillar below a bridge.

In the incident last year, a homeless man was seen clinging to the bridge pillar, but got swept away. His body was found a few days later.

Last week, 12 technicians from two stations were involved with the training. They also had a special operations-safety officer and a commander, all of whom would be involved in the event of an actual call. 

If the incident is big enough and warrants it, the Northwest Fire District has an agreement with the Golder Ranch Fire District to provide assistance.  

When the water is flowing in the half-mile-wide Santa Cruz River, it can be moving at 30,000 cubic feet per second, which is about 30 miles per hour. Though fire crews have seen it, they caution people from thinking they can simply go and play in it, ride their boat down the river, or drive their vehicles through it.

“I would compare it to skydiving without a parachute on. It is that dangerous,” Arneson said. “We’ve all seen the tires, trees and shopping carts coming down the river, which all will not make it a nice kayaking trip.”

So far this monsoon season, the Northwest Fire District has responded to about two dozen swift water rescue calls. 

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