AW Supports Potomac Safety Event

Posted: 05/25/2005
by Jason Robertson

National Park Service, U. S. Park Police, American Whitewater, D.C. Police Harbor Patrol, D.C., Montgomery and Fairfax County's Fire and Rescue Departments Announce Joint Effort to Reduce Potomac River Gorge Drownings  


Potomac, MD - In a demonstration of inter-agency cooperation, representatives from the National Park Service, the United States Park Police, District of Columbia MetropolitanPolice and Montgomery and Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Departments are announcing enhanced communication devices and strengthening of collective efforts to reduce the number of drownings in the Potomac River Gorge.    


In 2004, five people drowned in the Potomac River Gorge, an area defined as extending from Key Bridge to just north of Great Falls.   While events immediately preceding these drownings vary considerably, more often the route of entry into the water is from the River's shore, often from visitors fishing along the River's banks. 


In order to address these visitors directly, new efforts include posting signs in three languages (English, Spanish and Vietnamese) in areas most likely to attract fishing activity or that are easily-reached visitor access points into the Gorge.   25 signs will be posted, with 15 signs on C&O Canal property and 10 on property maintained by the George Washington Memorial Parkway.   The signs are designed to warn and inform visitors of the extremely dangerous conditions present even when the river appears to be calm and or still.  


Other efforts include the National Park Service's regional radio communications operation in Hagerstown, MD providing quick and reliable communication with United States Park Police and with local Fire and Rescue agencies.   By helping to coordinate emergency communications between various rescue agencies, the time needed to help pinpoint visitors who end up in the River has been reduced.   


Proposed efforts include developing a multi-agency database on incident injuries, deaths and rescues and a consensus map to ensure consistent knowledge of the Gorge among all agencies, studying ways to further promote unified command and communications among all agencies, maintaining adequate boat ramp facilities, maximizing training opportunities and consistency among agencies and establishing law enforcement agreements to maximize use of personnel. 


"I'm pleased with the work among all agencies to try to reduce the number of drownings in the Potomac River Gorge," said Kevin Brandt, Superintendent of the National Park Service's C&O Canal. "The NPS is committed to helping reduce drownings to zero." 


"The United States Park Police is committed to raising the standard in terms of working with other local, county, state and federal agencies," said U.S. Park Police Chief Dwight Pettiford.   "We have a strong basis from which to move forward." 


"With some of the largest area along the river to cover, Montgomery County will continue its commitment to the collective efforts that I believe are helping us to promote safety and reduce drownings in the Potomac River Gorge," said Fire Chief Tom Carr, of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.   "With the good working relationships that exist, I'm confident we can reach zero drownings in the Gorge."    


"The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department is and continues to be a major player in supporting water and boating safety in the Potomac River Gorge.   As the largest jurisdiction in the Washington, D.C. area, Fairfax County firefighters and paramedics are committed to reducing drownings, injuries, and raising public awareness on the importance of personal safety on the Potomac River," said Fire Chief Michael Neuhard, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department spokesman. 


"This cooperative effort involving the Metropolitan Police Department, the National Park Service and the other National Capital Region agencies will greatly reduce accidental drowning deaths on the Potomac River," said Commander Cathy Lanier of the Metropolitan Police Department's Special Operations Division, which oversees the Harbor Patrol Unit.  


"Partnerships that work and that help bridge the gap in communications and working relationships between government agencies and private organizations are what is at work here between the National Park Service and the Potomac Conservancy," said Matthew Logan, President of the Potomac Conservancy.    "We look forward to many years of a strong working relationship with not only the National Park Service, but with all other agencies who work on the Potomac River."  


"Educating our members and raising awareness of other river enthusiasts about wearing a life jacket is the single, most important action anyone can take," said Jason Robertson of the American Whitewater Association.  "Our research of Coast Guard data revealed that improper life jacket use accounts for at least half of all fatalities on the water." 


For more information, contact the Park Service's Communication Director Bill Line at 202-619-7400.

Jason D. Robertson
635 Joseph Cir
Golden, CO 80403-2349