Little River Canyon, first responders discuss safety at media day

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FORT PAYNE, Ala. – There was record-breaking attendance at Little River Canyon National Preserve in 2020, but with a higher number of people comes more accidents, injuries, and even deaths.

Park leaders and first responders were out in the parking lot of Little River Falls Tuesday to meet and greet with media outlets, including News 19, in preparation for what could be their busiest year yet.

Park Superintendent Steve Black told News 19 that the park had more than 802,000 visitors last year, which is at least over 150,000 more than the previous record high. Unfortunately, though, he said they also had four drownings within just eight weeks of each other. 

“It was a tragic Spring for us at Little River. We had all of our first responders out here on numerous times, even when someone doesn’t die or drown, we still have people injured and can’t get out. It'[s difficult, It’s tough and it wears on you,” said Black.

News 19 covered several of those drownings and rescues last year.

“This is a beautiful danger. It’s very beautiful until you make that wrong step and then it’ accidents happen. What we’re seen over the years is, I see peer pressure. A bunch of friends come out here swimming, I can’t swim that good, that’s fine we got you, but that’s not the case, they don’t have him because they’re tired and end up having a fatality,” explained Fischer Rescue Squad Captain Quinten Green.

Fort Payne Fire and Rescue, Fischer Rescue Squad, and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) showing News 19 the different gear they use to get down into the canyon when an emergency strikes.

“What more people don’t realize is the preps we do at the top, setting rope rescues up with rigging systems, being able to repel down and we have to have safety ropes and pulley ropes, all types of different things set up so, it’s probably a 10 to 20 minute process just to get everything set up just to get equipment down to the patient. We try to get EMT or a medic down there as soon as possible,” Fort Payne Fire Chief Ron Saferite.

Things first responders said visitors should look out for, “Swift water, cold water and then cliffs. Rocks get slick when they’re wet and just be mindful of your surroundings and your family,” said Green.

And the biggest thing is, “We want people to come and respect the river. Water is very very powerful. Cold water is even more powerful. It’ll take the breath right out of you. You might think you’re a great swimmer, jump into cold water, and it’s going to really affect you,” added Black.

Black told News 19 that if the water is flowing at 250 cubic feet per second, that it is probably too fast to be in it.

He said currently, it is around 1,000. 

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