MISSOULA — If the hot temperatures are tempting you to get out on the rivers and lakes of western Montana, you might want to think twice. The fast-moving rivers and very cold water are not a safe place to be this time of year.
With temperatures heating up and river levels rising, The City of Missoula Fire Department and Missoula Search and Rescue are spending their days training for what seems like the inevitable -- making a springtime river rescue.
Missoula Fire Department Captain Chad Kidd says they average one to two rescues each spring, adding that it doesn’t have to be that way. “What to do in a bad situation is to not get into it in the first place, so know your limitations, know the water is ice cold this time of year.”
The Clark Fork River in Missoula is running at about 12-to-15 mph and that means it’s extremely difficult to survive without help. So, what do you do if you find yourself in this dangerous situation?
“If you do end up in the water, the best thing you can do is get into a floaters position face up, feet down looking for hazards," Kidd explained. "And what I mean by hazards are strainers, this time of year the water comes up the banks, so those limbs and logs, everything in the water is just a big strainer, and if you get caught up in that, that could be the end.”
The combination of fast-paced, frigid water locking up muscles -- and the nearly impossible task of avoiding debris you often can’t see -- is a recipe for disaster. So, what do you do if a friend or pet winds up in a rescue situation? Kidd says exhaust all other options before jumping in.
“We call it reach, throw, and then go. So, if you can reach them with a branch or anything like that, throw them a line is the throw part of that, and then if you’re a good swimmer and maybe it’s a child and you know you can make the swim and get back, then go ahead, but try to exhaust your other options first," Kidd told MTN News.
He added that one way you can help your chances of survival tremendously -- whether it be in the river or very cold area lakes -- is to wear a lifejacket. “PFD’s. If you can’t swim or...if you can’t swim and you’re even around the river -- PFD. If you’re out on a boat wear your lifejacket, if you do fall over it increases those chances of getting back in the boat.”
Kidd adds many people associate alcohol with getting out on rivers and lakes, but he says this combination often clouds judgment and leads to poor decision making. He also is advising that people wait just a few more weeks until water levels are down and the water is warmer to enjoy time out on the boat or in the rivers and lakes of western Montana.