How swift water rescue teams assist during flash flooding

Posted at 7:53 PM, Sep 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-16 09:23:47-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Staff at the National Weather Service are closely watch their computers torrential rains rip through southern Utah.

"That's expected to pick up probably in the next two hours," said hydrologist Brian McInerney, as he looked at a weather model on his computer Tuesday afternoon.

Meteorologists at the weather service can see what’s coming, that might cause trouble.

"What we look for, are the radar returns that indicate areas of the most intense rainfall,” McInerney said. “Are the storms moving quick? Are they moving slow?"

McInerney said the weather service has been warning of flash floods, like the ones that swept through Hildale.

To predict flooding, they look at moisture in the atmosphere, if a cold front is coming through and whether thunderstorms will bring heavy rain.

Other factors include lack of vegetation and steep slopes, McInerney said.

He explained the National Weather Service works closely with several agencies to get the word out when they see danger.

Still, they can’t always prevent people from getting caught in the flood path.

That’s when a water rescue team gets called in. They respond to any emergency that involves water.

"It doesn't take a whole lot to have someone get into trouble, when the water is actually moving," said Greg Miller, with the Salt Lake City Fire Department Swift Water Rescue Team.

Miller said as little as six inches can sweep someone off their feet. Fast-moving water can overtake cars.

Their truck sits stocked and ready to go with gear to keep the crew safe and rescue victims.

"Ropes are the number one tools that we like to use," Miller said, as he showing off the equipment.

Before they get into the water, the crew suits up in a dry suit, life jacket, helmet, boots and gloves.

“We want to make sure we’re safe, and that we’re ready for any type of scenario,” Miller said.

Miller added they always assess the situation to figure out the best course of action to save someone.

Sometimes, conditions are too rough for them to try.

That’s why he has tips to help prevent their callout in the first place.

“Avoid the water at all costs,” he said.

Miller added don’t drive into water on the roadway.

“If you find yourself stranded in a vehicle that’s surrounded by water, and the floodwaters are starting the rise, we suggest at that time to try and get out of the vehicle and safely make it to higher ground,” Miller said.

He also said that picking up a stick to test the submerged ground in front of you will help you make sure it’s OK to cross and not washed away.

While the Salt Lake City Fire Department crew is ready to respond, McInerney sits at his desk, watching.

"Let's see how we're looking up here," he said, as he zoomed in closer to an area of Utah on his computer.

He said the National Weather Service has all eyes on their models to see if and when conditions will die down, in hopes those flash floods will subside.