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Rescue a warning of swift water dangers

COVINGTON - The rescue of a 20-year-old woman from rising waters in the Alcovy River is a reminder to all area residents of the dangers of swollen rivers and creeks, according to the Newton County Fire Service.

Due to recent heavy rainfall, area rivers and waterways are overflowing their banks and are much more dangerous than usual, according to Fire Chief Mike Satterfield.

Satterfield said residents may not realize how high the water is in some cases and attempt to wade in areas they think are familiar.

"Or, in some cases, it may seem to be exciting - this water is really flowing hard, so let's have some fun - but in actuality it is very dangerous," Satterfield said. "The water is much stronger than it appears. Once the water grabs you and pushes you down, you are at the mercy of that water."

Kevin O'Brien, chief of operations for NCFS, said firefighter and rescue personnel were dispatched to Factory Shoals Park on Monday night at about 7:30 in reference to a person trapped in the water.

"On arrival they found a 20-year-old female trapped on a rock about 20 to 30 feet from the bank," O'Brien said. "She had originally walked out and the water rose while she was out there, and it was actually what we consider a swift water incident at that point."

The victim had gone to the park with two friends who were able to call for help when she got stranded.

O'Brien said personnel from Station 3, Company 1, Battalion 1 and Car 3 responded to the scene.

Rescue personnel first donned their swift water equipment, O'Brien said, and then threw a life vest and rope out to the victim. She was given directions how to put on the vest. They then set up two safety backups - Lt. Mike Viores and Firefighter Brian Sanders - down river with additional life safety rope in case the victim washed downstream, he said.

"Then the Rescue 1 crew and Capt. Scott Lester, Engineer Scott Carson, and Firefighter Brad Eavenson - they are the ones who were actually with the victim - they gave her instructions at that point to enter the water while on the life safety rope. She only lasted on the rope about five seconds before she lost control of the rope. The current was so strong, she couldn't hold on," O'Brien said.

O'Brien said the victim went under water for three to five seconds, but the life vest did its job and she bobbed to the surface face up and on her back. As she started downstream, safety backup Viores threw a life safety rope to her and she was pulled to the bank with no injuries.

"It easily could have been a fatality if we weren't there and didn't have that equipment," said O'Brien.

As Satterfield said, timing is everything, and the fire service had just equipped its rescue truck with water rescue equipment about a week before this incident. In addition, Satterfield said some fire service personnel have undergone additional technical rope rescue training and swift water rescue training.

"We were very fortunate because those people were on duty," he said.

O'Brien reminded residents that water levels in area rivers can fluctuate rapidly due to rainfall upstream.

"If (the victim) had been there by herself, she wouldn't have made it," he said.