SD Lifeguards, Fire-Rescue gear up for summer
by BLAKE BUNCH
Published - 06/17/17 - 12:30 PM | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A rescue crew ascends up a cliff with a downed hiker in Box Canyon with aid from a rescue helicopter. / PHOTO BY RICHARD ROMERO
A rescue crew ascends up a cliff with a downed hiker in Box Canyon with aid from a rescue helicopter. / PHOTO BY RICHARD ROMERO
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After an April 19 incident at the cliffs overlooking Black’s Beach, where a 23-year-old UC San Diego student fell to his death, and with heightened summer traffic of San Diego’s cliff areas approaching, San Diego Lifeguards and Fire and Rescue personnel are gearing up for a busy summer.

The most recent cliffs rescue in La Jolla occurred on May 13.

“There was a rescue, with medical aid, and the person was so tired that they had to be carried out,” said Lt. Rich Stropky of San Diego Lifeguards. “Specific to the cliffs areas, instances where people are not paying attention (i.e. taking pictures), climbing in unstable areas, surfers who are stuck on the rocks, strolling around during night hours, or those who jump on purpose are the main reason we are called out for a rescue.”

While these idyllic aspects of this wonderful coastline are popular areas of exercise and leisure for both residents and tourists, as the most recent death and past fatalities indicate, they can prove extremely hazardous.

Although this is no major revelation, it should be noted that a “cliffs rescue” can not only prove costly, but contains many moving parts to successfully help someone who is stranded to safety.

In spite of some dispatch issues between the San Diego Fire Department and lifeguards, the fire department are first-responders during the nighttime while lifeguards carry the burden during the day. It should be noted that lifeguards help at night as well.

There are emergency call boxes strategically placed near vantage points to directly alert lifeguards as well. If a call box is initiated that warrants a rescue, or 911 is called, SDFR and/or lifeguards will be sent out to conduct a risk assessment.

If there is no injury, a fire engine and paramedic is called out to the scene. Once this risk assessment is completed, SDFR or lifeguards devise their plan of action. Will responders be able to carry/use a winch to get someone out, or will an air lift be deemed necessary?

“When we have enough information, we get a ‘copter on the way until further notice,” Stropky explained. “One day, we rescued 10 people in Box Canyon. During this January and February, we conducted a lot of rescues, as well.”

Stropky also noted that every “permanent” lifeguard receives 40 hours of cliff rescue training – how to work the equipment, approaches, etc. - so everyone has the ability to respond to distress calls.

The lifeguards take 16-hr. “refresher courses” every year to stay ahead of the curve.

La Jolla Village News asked both San Diego Lifeguards and Fire and Rescue as to how many fatalities have occurred in cliffs areas over the past 10 years, of which no data was readily available.

“I don’t know exactly how many fatalities or total rescues have occurred during that time period, but I do know that people should not go off trail, but often, by accident, people end up in the wrong spot,” Stropky added.
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