SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Countless videos shared over social media by the Sacramento Fire Department show teams rescuing people from dangerous waters just in time.
Battalion Chief Dave Lauchener said the state capital is no stranger to flooding, having two major rivers run through and naturally being a flood plain.
“The Sacramento area statistically has had one of the highest drowning rates in the entire United States,” Lauchener said. “We’ve been known for that for a long-time.”
He said this year is different because of the extreme weather.
In 2022, there were 21 water rescue call outs. This year, they’ve already received 33.
Lauchener said the swift water rescue teams were stretched during the storms.
“Earlier on in January when we had all the water we were stretched,” he said. “We had swift water teams deployed for three weeks in January. Helping out in the Sacramento area all the way down to Galt.”
With climate experts modeling extreme weather patterns becoming more frequent in the future, these types of events are one reason Sacramento Fire Chief Chris Costamagna was recently in Washington, D.C., speaking with federal officials on the need for more funding for swift water rescue crews.
“Bolstering our own department with training, the boats and the equipment that you need,” Costamagna said.
The department is tackling the need to better serve the community, he said, when it comes to water rescue on two fronts: funding and finding firefighters.
Currently, the department is down around 20-30 firefighters.
“When I applied and tested for the city of Sacramento, there was about 3,000 people applying at the same time,” Chief Costamagna said. “Today those numbers have dropped to maybe 200 people, every time we have an exam. And qualified paramedics, it’s probably about a quarter of that.”
As a swift water trainer, Lauchener said for each person he trains, it costs around $4,000-5,000 to outfit one person.
He said expenses across the board are increasing.
“It’s getting tougher in our economic times and that in the long run is going to be a determent to our department and the city of Sacramento,” Lauchener said.
River waters or this time of year remain high, he said.
Lauchener said he hopes those who need to hear their call for help with funding listen carefully.