Environment & Science

Orange County agencies prepare for joint riverbed rescues during El Niño

File: Storm waters flow steady down the Santa Ana River in Orange where lots of homeless people camp. Jan. 7, 2015
File: Storm waters flow steady down the Santa Ana River in Orange where lots of homeless people camp. Jan. 7, 2015
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Eight agencies came together Wednesday morning to participate in a swift water rescue simulation in the Santa Ana Riverbed. 

With 2016's El Niño posing additional risk for flash floods, fire departments in the local area are receiving additional training to prepare for potential rescues. The drill was a culmination of several weeks of smaller trainings, according to Daron Wyatt, spokesman for Anaheim Fire and Rescue.

The drill took place along the Santa Ana River, and simulated a victim riding a bicycle at about 12 miles per hour. 

"As the victim would approach certain key points, fire personnel would respond to those locations to attempt a rescue," Wyatt said. 

The drill was all off-shore based rescue meaning firefighters were making rescues either by using inflatable hoses across the riverbed, or by using ropes. Only three agencies in Orange County are certified to do rescues in the water, which are Orange County Fire Authority, Anaheim Fire and Rescue and the City of Orange Fire Department.

The Santa Ana Riverbed is known as home to more than 70 homeless people who are put at risk by El Niño storms. 

"People themselves can get tangled up in ropes, tarps so our personnel or people attempting to rescue them underwater, that can just really add to the problem," Wyatt said.

Wyatt said that if a person is swept up by water, the best thing to do is to put their back to the water and place your feet downstream.

Participants in the drill included fire departments from Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Orange, Garden Grove and Huntington Beach, plus the Orange County Fire Authority and Huntington Beach lifeguards.