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Firefighter points out deadliest spot on the James River

Posted at 2:08 PM, Jun 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-19 14:08:59-04

RICHMOND, Va. – After recent rain storms, James River water levels are expected to rise this week, so Richmond Water Rescue teams reminded people Monday to stay safe if they head to the river. Richmond Fire and EMS has three water rescue boats ready to respond to emergencies.

Lt. Stephen Forgette, with Water Rescue 24, has been doing river rescues for nearly 20 years.

He called the Z-Dam, just upstream from Pony Pasture, one of the river's most dangerous spots.

Lt. Stephen Forgette

"In essence it's like a washing machine. It takes you to the dam, you hit the water that's falling, it sucks you underwater, it brings you back up and then it shoots you back in. It just keeps recycling you through until you drown," Lt. Forgette explained.

Forgette said the dam was most dangerous when the water rises between six to seven feet.  He said 20 people have died there in the past 20 years.

"They're getting on a raft and they're wanting to flow down because for all intents and purposes the river looks very calm from here until Pony Pasture," he said. "What they don't know is that as soon as they get to that Z-Dam, and it drops off, they're in danger."

The Z-Dam on the James River

What makes the James River so dangerous, he said, was how quickly water levels fluctuate.

"They'll go out midday, maybe mid-morning, and in the evening time, they'll try to come back while the river has come up a few inches and creates dangerous rapids, and they can't make it back or they try to make it back and they get washed away and that's when we are called," said Forgette.

That’s why rescuers recommend you always check water levels. When the river is at 5 feet or above, you have to wear a life jacket.

Lt. Forgette also said  tubes aren’t built for rapids, so he recommended you only go tubing up river where the water is still.

Find out more about the James River here.