Fresno County crews train for high-risk, night time rescues ahead of swim season

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A wet winter is setting the stage for a dangerous summer, and the Fresno County Search and Rescue Team is training hard because every second could be the difference between life or death. (KFSN)

The Fresno County Search and Rescue Team is taking extra life-saving measures ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

Just below Pine Flat Dam and not far from Sanger, the Kings River is rushing quickly. A wet winter is setting the stage for a dangerous summer, and search and rescue teams are preparing for the worst.

"Adds a lot of extra dangers because, with the higher water level, the water is flowing in a path that it hasn't really flowed for about five or six years," Scott Weishaar with the department explained.

As part of a three-day training course, the rescuers roleplay real-life scenarios and search for other team members. The hardest part isn't the freezing water or even the rushing rapids, it's navigating the river while it's pitch black.

"Really, for the rescuer, it adds a lot more stress, especially in the water environment," Weishaar explained. "Because they can't see obstacles that are coming up, and it's going to be harder for them to search for the victim."

A trained "victim" is waiting for further downstream as the team gets ready near the dam.

"This is my first time doing night training, night swim," rescuer Spencer Little said.

The higher water level poses serious risks - including debris, trees and even barbed wire fencing just below the river's surface.

"It's not good for us to go in the water and then lose one of our own," Little said. "So, we definitely want to stay together as a team."

Deputies say this is the most crucial part of their training because many of their rescue calls come in late in the evening.

"You hear the big rushing water ahead, but you can't see it," Little said.

"One of the benefits of the daytime is that you can plan ahead and position yourself on the river for the safest way to go through but at night they don't have that benefit," Weishaar said.

While it's dangerous, the deputies say it's important for them to practice as they anticipate a dangerous and possibly deadly summer to come.

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fresno countyKings RiverrescueSanger
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