GLADSTONE, Ore. - Lifeguards will now be stationed at two of our areas most notorious swimming holes throughout the summer months.
American Medical Response's River Rescue Program begins this Memorial Day weekend and lifeguards were out at High Rocks City Park in Gladstone on Friday to get in some last-minute training.
Lifeguards will be at both High Rocks and Glenn Otto Community Park in Troutdale. Folks heading to the popular river holes will see them there seven days a week through Labor Day.
The program began back in 1999 at Glenn Otto and was implemented a few years later at High Rocks. According to AMR, they've rescued 76 swimmers since then.
Gladstone Mayor Wade Byers, along with City Council members, was at High Rocks on Friday to watch the lifeguards. Byers said it's a tremendous service for a community that at one time had become accustomed to hearing about drownings at the infamous swimming hole.
"Just prior to starting it (the River Rescue Program) there were three drownings in about 20 days here," he said. "And every one of them was somebody kind of goofing off, doing something that they shouldn't have done."
"It really touches our community," Byers added. "Nobody likes to read in the paper that a young person, and they are often young people, drowned in the river."
We asked Byers how he felt about people swimming at High Rocks. He didn't say that folks shouldn't swim there, but he did say that he feels it's not one of the best spots to jump in the water.
"I don't find it to be a particularly great place to swim," Byers said. "I grew up here and when we were kids we would come down here but we didn't swim very often. You can jump in the river here to try to swim across and you end up (way) down there."
Taneka Means, AMR's River Rescue Program Coordinator, said she just wants people to swim safely wherever they choose to go.
"There are dangerous features of the water anywhere you go," she said. "We highly recommend that if you see water that looks white, you don't swim in it. That is a strong, turbulent current if it looks white. If you see a strong current, don't try to cross it. Trying to cross the river can be very, very dangerous because the currents can change and increase in speed as you go across."
"Specifically here at High Rocks we really preach look before you jump," Means added. "It is so important to make sure that the area below you does not have any swimmers or boaters in it or any rocks or hazards that you might be jumping on to."
Means said folks should swim in an area to check it out before jumping in. Once you've determined it's safe, there's a correct way you should jump in, she told us.
"Always jump feet first," she said. "Protect your spine."
Another important thing - be wary of currents.
"Currents are really strong and they're powerful and they constantly never give up. A human will never win against a current," Means said.
And of course, wear a life jacket. It really can save your life. Without one, you could be in serious trouble within minutes but with one on, you get valuable time.
"If you have a life jacket on and you tire out, the life jacket takes over and keeps your head, and you, afloat until you can safely get out of the water," said Means.
The water is very cold, also, and our rivers and lakes don't really warm up all that much here in the Northwest. Means said don't let a hot day fool you.
"Our waters are, of course, glacier fed," she said. "They come from Mt. Hood so they are very, very cold. And they stay cold year round. We don't get much variance."
AMR's lifeguards have spent the past two weeks in intensive training to get ready for their summer at the river. They have been heading out to the waterways every day to make sure they know the current conditions.
"We swim our river every morning before our shift - get to know the current, the speed of the water, different hazards that are present," said Lifeguard Carly Shears. She just finished a paramedic program and also interns at a fire department.
Shears said while she loves being on the river what really drives her is being able to interact with folks and teach kids about water safety. It's how she makes a difference, she told us.
We asked Shears if the fast and cold water at High Rocks gives her pause and she said no because her training has prepared her for it.
"It's not intimidating but you definitely want to keep your senses about you and be aware," she said. "For me, it's important to be on my 'A' game and always be vigilant."
"I have a healthy fear of the river," she added. "It can be a very dangerous place. If you don't know what you're doing, you can get into a lot of trouble."
KATU Reporter Joe Raineri contributed to this report. All photos by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU.com Producer/Reporter.