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Waterways continue to pose risks for Calgarians looking to cool down

Beat the heat by rafting the Bow River; great in theory, dangerous if not done properly.

The City of Calgary urged Calgarians to stay safe on the waterways this summer. The waterways have already seen an increase in usage during the recent heat wave, resulting in several dozen rescues over the weekend.

By following the rules and taking all the associated precautions, the amount of rescues needed could be reduced, Carol Henke, Public Information Officer with the Calgary Fire Department, said.

“Thankfully, no one was seriously injured over the weekend, to my knowledge, but it’s a just a matter of time before something really tragic happens. Typically those things can be prevented,” Henke said.

Water rescue services were contacted for multiple different reasons this weekend, including deflated rafts, people stranded on islands, and rafts that had been tied together were stuck to bridge abutments.

On Monday, Calgary Fire Department aquatic rescue teams were called to Mahogany Lake. An eight-year-old girl jumped off the dock with friends and didn’t resurface, fire officials said.

Divers went in and conducted a grid search and located the girl in about 15 to 18 feet of water. She was brought to the dock where STARS air ambulance took the girl to hospital in critical, life-threatening condition. There’s no update on her condition as this time.

Also Monday, around 5 p.m., passersby pulled an unconscious man from the Bow River at Harvie Passage. The man had been witnessed struggling in the water. Two bystanders – off duty firefighters – began CPR. The patient was transferred over the EMS.

When aquatic crews were there, they saw a boy capsize while in a ‘pool floatie’ – while not wearing a life jacket. He was also pulled from the water.

Regular calls for Calgary emergency services

Every year, the Calgary Fire Department and the Calgary Police Service respond to multiple calls to help citizens on waterways – with the City’s aquatics crews conducting regular patrols on the waterways.

“We want everyone to be as safe as possible while enjoying Calgary’s beautiful waterways,” Henke said. 

“Please carry a water safety kit. Don’t consume alcohol or drugs and know what to do if you see someone in trouble. Make sure that you and your family and friends are informed and prepared before going onto the water.”

Carol Henke, Public Information Officer with the Calgary Fire Department. KIRSTEN PHILLIPS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

According to the Water Safety Bylaw, everyone on a watercraft must wear a lifejacket or personal flotation device. Failure to do so results in a ticket – including a mandatory court appearance and up to $500 in fines.

Citizens need to avoid parking in no-parking zones at boat launch areas. It impedes rescue services from being able to quickly respond.

“[If] we can’t launch the boat for a rescue, it could mean the difference between life and death,” Henke said.

“Nobody would think to park in front of the doors of a fire station, prohibiting a firetruck from getting out responding to an emergency or doing the same thing. I just think they don’t realize it. If you’re at what looks like a boat launch, and there are no parking signs. Do not park there.”

Mitigating waterway risks

In order to keep Calgarians safe on the waterways this summer, the City urges people to be prepared. Scout the area for potential hazards and assess the level of danger before heading out to enjoy the water.

“People need to plan their route. If you are passing under a bridge avoid the bridge abutment, make sure you can maneuver your craft. You need oars,” Henke said. 

“It’s not just a casual float, you need to be able to maneuver around obstacles and there are hidden obstacles in the water as well … If you’re in a single chamber raft, an inexpensive one that you just bought for the weekend, there’s a good likelihood it will deflate if you get caught on something or strike something.”

The Bow River is a common place to see people rafting during the hotter months in Calgary. Photo: KIRSTEN PHILLIPS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

However, the Bow River is not the only concern.

Entry into storm ponds is strictly prohibited and can be dangerous – things like swimming, wading, floating, boating [are] all strictly prohibited,” Corey Colbran, Manager of Wastewater & Stormwater with Water Services, said.

“Please keep your pets out of those storm ponds for their health and safety as well … herbicides, pesticides that may be on lawns or hydrocarbons running off the streets, those kinds of things can get into the ponds.”

Storm ponds function to trap sediment before it discharges into the river. With runoff or rain, storm ponds could have hydrocarbons or an abundance of silty soil. That makes the edges slick and gooey, Colbran said.

“Unfortunately, we have seen some fatalities in the city – some rescues that have happened … but the reality is it can happen and it can happen quickly.”