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Water rescuers urge swimmers, boaters to stay safe

By Dannika Lewis, dlewis@wisctv.com
Published On: Jul 08 2014 10:31:41 PM CDT

Dannika Lewis

MADISON, Wis. -

It’s another reminder that booze and boating may not be a good combination.

“Generally, any type of person down in the water, it's generally going to be alcohol related somehow,” Lt. Cory Reno with the Madison Fire Department said.

While alcohol may not be a factor in either incident, authorities are still looking for a man who jumped into the Wisconsin River in the Dells and recently recovered a body in a pond in Columbia County.

A fisherman pulled a man from Lake Mendota after he had too much to drink and tried to swim the span of the lake.

Reno and the rest of the divers on Madison’s lake rescue team are working against the elements much of the time.

“The six, seven minutes that it's going to take for us to get here, the boat's going to drift, and everyone on the boat is going to say, ‘He went in right here,'” Reno said.

The crew’s boat is equipped with technology that can help with a lack of visibility in Madison’s waterways, along with other challenges water rescues can bring.

Reno said a sonar device is used to scan the water all the way to the lake’s bottom, which can be particularly useful for finding someone who may be a drowning victim.

“It's just something else we're able to use to our advantage, you know, to be able to make a good quick search of the area where we think the person may be down,” Reno said.

Scuba suits are also equipped with wireless communication devices, allowing those above lake level to guide those down below.

“When you're down searching on the bottom of the lakes, could be 20, 30 feet deep and the visibility is really low, a couple feet,” Reno said. “So you have to basically bump into the person that's down to find them.”

Reno also warned about quick weather changes, saying swimmers and boaters should get to shore when and if storms hit.

“The storms that we've had around Madison lately, there's been a ton of lightning and it pops up pretty quick,” Reno said. “So if you're out on the water, you definitely want to make sure to take cover in a situation like that.”

Reno also encouraged novice boaters and beginning swimmers to wear life jackets out on the water. If you don’t feel like you need a floatation device, Reno said you should still have something easily accessible in case of an emergency.

“When you need it, you need it now. It's not, I'm going to dig it out from underneath a bunch of other stuff and get it to that person,” Reno said.

Reno said most safety out on the lakes and waterways this summer comes down to common sense, and while his crew is there in the worst case scenarios, he hopes people heed the warnings.

“You can make a big difference. Even out here, you can make a difference if you get to them quick enough. But we all know water's not a good thing to mess with,” Reno said.

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