New Emergency Access Routes Created on the San Diego River

Created: 14 February, 2018
Last update: 20 April, 2022

By Ana Gomez Salcido

Instead of wasting critical time fighting through heavy brush to reach the San Diego River, San Diego Fire-Rescue Lifeguard Division personnel now have quicker access to perform life-saving rescue operations.

After a suggestion from San Diego Fire-Rescue Lifeguard Division personnel, Councilmember Scott Sherman and the San Diego River Conservancy spearheaded a plan to work with CAL FIRE and other agencies to cut seven access routes through heavy brush to the San Diego River.

“Our swift water rescue team has performed hundreds of successful rescues along the San Diego River over the years. These access points allow us to save precious moments in getting to those who need us,” said San Diego Lifeguard Chief Rick Wurts. “Any place around water like this can create really hazardous conditions, and when it rains, anyone that it’s close to the water is at risk whether is a homeless person that lives in the area or somebody that comes here and wants to cross on what they think it’s shallow water but in fact can be much deeper that it seems and the water is very strong.”

Over 20 swift-river rescues were done last year along the San Diego River. In addition, one of the emergency access routes is behind a motel where lifeguards rescued over 60 people during heavy rains in early 2017.

“A lifeguard’s job is hard enough. Finding common sense solutions to help make their jobs just a little bit easier will help improve public safety and save lives,” said San Diego Councilmember Scott Sherman. “I appreciate the hard work of the San Diego River Conservancy and CAL Fire for making this possible.”

A press conference was held at one of the new access routes on Tuesday, Feb. 13, with Sherman, Wurts, and San Diego Fire Department Chief Brian Fennessy present.

“This looks like a very simple thing, but it took a lot of work to get to this point. It took a lot of cooperation between a lot of different agencies to address the environmental concerns, the permits, and the actual cutting of the vegetation,” Fennesy said. “A lot went into this, and at the end, there is no doubt that lives are going to be saved as a result.”

The same day of the press conference, San Diego Fire Department personnel were at the scene performing river training operations.

“Lifeguards have especially designed boats that have very flat bottoms that allow us to get into swift-moving water that can even be shallow water. And we practice on those boats on a river environment, it’s very different operating them on the bay or the ocean because there can be spots in the river that can be very narrowed, and to be able to turn and operate those boats effectively, takes training,” Wurts added.