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Water rescue

Saving lives from fire, water and ice

Fire rescue boat on the water

The Calgary Fire Department's Aquatic Rescue Team is trained to peak-performance levels in both fire and water rescue. This technical team is best known for its ability to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies on or near Calgary's rivers, lakes and canals, while promoting safe practices and enjoyment of the city's waterways in all seasons.

Calgarians call on the rescue team's expertise approximately 200 times a year, of which more than a quarter are ice-related incidents. Divers recover forensic evidence, search submerged vehicles and rescue stranded and overturned boaters. They fly missions with STARS air ambulance, dive into murky sloughs and conduct more than 350 river patrols in every kind of weather to protect Calgarians and save lives.

The response

Between May and October, more than 30,000 people take to the city's rivers on inner tubes, canoes, kayaks or simply to enjoy a dip in the water. Others wade into the Bow to cast lures along the banks of the world-famous fishery.

But while the air temperature may soar to plus-30 degrees, the glacier-fed waters of the Bow and the Elbow can be swift and unpredictable. If there's trouble, a 9-1-1 call quickly alerts the Aquatic Rescue Team.

The clock begins to tick

Time is critical. Cold water can quickly drain the energy from a swimmer or overturned boater. Muscles contract, lungs gasp from the shock, and hypothermia causes a victim to lose the ability to focus and stay calm. Continued immersion leads to overwhelming weakness and eventual drowning.

A 90-minute window starting from when a call is received prompts the team to work in intensive rescue mode. After that window is closed, it becomes necessary to move to a post-incident recovery strategy – a difficult task for all emergency responders. ​​