Stranded Sabine River revelers put swift water rescuers to first test

Some local boaters’ late night river run ultimately became the first real life test for Gladewater Swift Water Rescue crew in the wee hours May 24.
According to Gladewater Fire Chief Mike Simmons, Gladewater Fire Station received a call about 3 a.m. that Friday morning reporting a boat on the Sabine River was stranded, engine flooded.
“There was no indication there was an emergency,” he said, just a stalled boat, needing a tow. The call didn’t come through 911 but, rather, through a spur of the moment phone tree. “We got our boat on the water, got to where we perceived the location to be and no one was there.
After a bit of doing, “Finally got some more coordinates and found them approximately five miles downstream from the boat ramp. They were actually in the water.”
Freshly-trained, GFD’s water rescue team soon learned the four boaters – adults ranging in age from 18 to mid-40s – had actually been in the water for an hour after their boat became submerged.
The boat contained just a cooler and camping gear, Simmons said, an early graduation adventure that had began about 10:30 p.m. Thursday night.
“Apparently they do it quite often, but the river’s a bit different because the water’s up so high over the banks.”
That’s what began the trouble – apparently, when the group attempted to bank the boat, the steep grade caused the stern to dip under the water, and it soon went under.
“My guys were able to get them all gathered up, get them in our boat,” he said. “The boat was floating by the time we got there. The safety mechanism of the bilge pump worked. Because the boat was floating they were able to tow It back to the dock.
“No injuries. No signs of criminal or illegal activity. It just looked like a fun ride on the river that quickly changed.”
As a PSA, he added, boaters need to bear in mind a flooded river has a stronger current and other unexpected hazards.
“It doesn’t take much for things to go wrong.”
That said, Simmons is pleased with the firefighters’ response for the first time since receiving swift water rescue training and equipment.
“The guys did a great job,” he said. “They were thrown a couple of curveballs because the scene changed very quickly. They managed it very well, and everybody got home safely.”
The GFD chief said he’s grateful for the local support that put the crew in place, ready to respond.
“The city council supported us in seeking after and building our water rescue team and training,” he said. “The boat was donated by Shipp’s Marine. The water rescue gear, life jackets, dry suits, helmets, throw bags, all that was donated by Sabine River Authority.”

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