Dramatic river rescue in '84 led to swift water rescue training

Despite the warnings to stay out of flooded roadways resulting from monsoon downpours, trained rescuers pluck people from the rushing water every year.

One dramatic rescue nearly 30 years ago on the Canada del Oro (CDO) Wash in Oro Valley led, in part, to widespread swift water rescue training here in Southeast Arizona.

The rescue happened just more than a year after the 83' floods that devastated Tucson and Nogales.

Two teenage boys and a man were in a pick-up truck that drove into the flooded CDO in 1984.

The teens were rescued first, but the man was stuck on the truck.

Then Richard Kunz and other Southern Arizona Rescue Association (SARA) volunteers arrived on scene.

They were among the first in the area to train for swift water rescues.

"Our part is less than 10 minutes, which seems like an eternity. But they had been there for over a half hour trying to get this guy off the truck." says Kunz.

By this time the man had tied himself to the truck.

He was hypothermic and seemingly helpless when Kunz was finally able to get on the truck.

"There was no obvious response. There was really no sign of breathing until he spit some water at me." says Kunz.

After freeing the man from the ropes holding him to the truck, Kunz and the rest of the SARA members were able to get him safely to dry land.

After getting treated at a local hospital, the man fully recovered.

In the end, this rescue proved to Kunz what he already knew.

"That the training we had been practicing at the Gila River for the past 10 years was exactly right on." says Kunz.

Now Tucson Fire is just one of the many groups that train each year for swift water rescue.

These are tried and true techniques that have saved many lives over the last 30 years.

Plus technology has advanced to the point that in some cases we can send a robot to the rescue.

EMILY, which stands for Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard, is a robotic lifeguard system made by a Green Valley, Arizona company.

Northwest Fire received funds to purchase an EMILY last year.

Kunz stresses that updated and new equipment can mean the difference between life and death in tight situations.

SARA is an all-volunteer, non-profit search and rescue organizations that relies on grants and donations.

If you would like to make a donation click here.

SARA volunteers take part in not only in swift water rescues but also work with emergency personnel in hiker rescues, fund a search & recovery team, fund dog and human rescue teams, and have a horse mounted division.