Crews warn of 'Golden Hour' on Virginia rivers, lakes: 'Someone can get pushed down'

'They can get into a situation that they can’t get out of. And then we have to respond to a tragedy rather than everyone going home safe.'
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Posted at 12:24 PM, May 24, 2024

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Chesterfield Fire and EMS's Scuba Rescue members are ready for action, expecting to see a steady increase in calls for service as the summer months approach.

Team member Jake Crockett told CBS 6 that no matter how fast they leave for a call, the clock is ticking when someone's survival is on the line.

"We typically have one hour, we call it 'Golden Hour,' when we can effectively perform a rescue if we're able to get to the person, and they do have a chance at being resuscitated," Crockett said. "But after that Golden Hour, we switch to recovery mode because the chance of them living, it drastically decreases, so everything kind of slows down and we switch over to a recovery focus."

Jake Crockett with Chesterfield Fire and EMS Scuba Rescue
Jake Crockett with Chesterfield Fire and EMS Scuba Rescue

Crockett said hotspots include the James River and Appomattox River, as well as Lake Chesdin and the Swift Water Creek Reservoir, places that often take more time and resources to travel to when responding to calls.

"We only have an hour, and you know, if we run a call on the James, on the upper James River, from here, by the time that we get that call, get units hooked up, get there and get in the water, it's probably already been 45 or 50 minutes," Crockett said. "Unless somebody is on scene that is part of the dive team, that Golden Hour go by so quickly, that we rarely ever get a true rescue attempt at somebody. We're almost always showing up and operating in recovery."

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Between May 1, 2023, and now, Chesterfield Fire and EMS responded to 38 total water rescue incidents, 23 of which were at the James River. Chesterfield reported 10 total drownings, half of which were at the James River.

Crockett said almost every water rescue can be prevented. He's encouraging individuals to wear a life jacket, and not operate a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

When asked if people are heeding that advice, Crockett's said this: "Not particularly. People are out trying to have a good time, and we support everyone getting out, enjoying time with friends and family, but people get comfortable with the situation. They know that they’re experienced on a boat so they don’t wear a life jacket anymore, or they’ve been to this part of the river so many times that they know everything about it, they don’t wear a life jacket and there’s also drinking going on the boat, and all those things add another level of risk."

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Add in ever-changing currents and what's unknown below the surface, Crockett is urging everyone to play it safe.

"Most of our calls happen in water that you can't see an arm-length away in," Crockett said. "Depending on how fast the current is, someone can get pushed down into those underwater obstructions, then those allow water to get through, but not necessarily a person, and so jumping in, not familiar where they’re at, they can get into a situation that they can’t get out of, and then we have to respond to a tragedy, rather than everyone going home safe."

According to Virginia law, it is illegal to operate a boat under the influence of alcohol. It's also illegal to not have U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets for everyone on board.

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