First responders urging water safety after low-head dam rescues

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- First responders are urging Hoosiers to heed their warnings about safety on Indiana waterways.

The Indianapolis Fire Department said it's rescued 20 people in the last three weeks from bodies of water in Marion County, a number it calls high and unusual.

"We have seen more swift water rescues than we have in recent years past," Battalion Chief of Special Operations Kevin Jones said.

Saturday, firefighters shared dramatic video of them pulling a 23-year old woman out of the low head dam on the White River in Broad Ripple. Another 24-year old kayaker made it out of the water on his own. Firefighters said he told them it was their first date.

It's the same spot where just a week prior, firefighters pulled out two other kayakers. One later died. It's something they don't want to see happen again.

"We encourage everyone to enjoy the river. It's a great recreation opportunity for everybody, however, we want people to make good decisions. Use the water when it's not at flood stage and most importantly wear your life jackets, plan your route, and know where all the dangers are," Jones said.

They're tips rescuers across the state want you to follow.

"It's not a carnival ride, it's a life and death situation,” Executive Indiana Conservation Officer Lt. Col. Terry Hyndman said.

Indiana DNR knows the dangers first hand after losing one of their own in 1998, First Sgt. Karl Kelley. Hyndman said during a training exercise, Kelley and another sergeant tried to rescue two others trapped in the face of a low head dam in southern Indiana.

Conservation officers said it's important people educate themselves before getting on the water. They should take an education class, wear a life jacket, plan a trip, scout out the route, know their experience level and know where low head dams are located. Hyndman said you should stop far enough upstream so neither you nor your kayak are at risk of washing over the dam, no closer than 100 yards. If someone does go over, you should not jump in after them, but call 911.

"It's never happened like this, we're not really sure why," Brant Cowser said.

Coswer lives only about 3/4 mile from the low head dam on the White River in Broad Ripple. He said he's already rescued three people himself before they got to the dam. He said now, neighbors are looking into different options to help warn people on the water.

The Hoosier Canoe and Kayak Club is also trying to ramp up its education efforts.

"It's hard when you know you keep hearing this on the news and it keeps happening still," club president Natalie Needham said.

Needham said they already offer weekly safety classes in the pool, but are planning on certifying more people to add more classes and focusing next month’s newsletter solely on safety and education.

To learn more about low head dams and where they're located, click here.

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