IFD rescue team says rivers are too dangerous for paddlers due to recent rain

INDIANAPOLIS - After several people in the Circle City and Anderson needed rescued off of the White River this past weekend, the leader of the Indianapolis Fire Department's special operations team said it's too dangerous to be out on the water.

IFD's Tac Team 14 rescued five paddlers with kayaks on the White River Saturday on the north side.  Three more people needed rescued on Fall Creek, near Ft. Benjamin Harrison.

Crews in Anderson had two separate water rescues Saturday on the portion of the White River that runs through that community.

The five paddlers on the White River weren't on the water for very long before running into danger. “People underestimate the force of the water," said IFD Special Operations Battalion Chief Kevin Jones. "We’ve had a lot of rain. It’s not just the rain that happens here, it’s the rain that happens north because it all affects the river and the river flow. The river goes up and that current is moving. People underestimate that and it doesn’t’ take long to get into trouble.”

At times, water conditions could be at a point where only experienced paddlers in canoes and kayaks should venture into the rivers, but Jones said

“We encourage everyone to stay off the water right now because it is high and it’s not navigable for people who are inexperienced," he said. "While we will find some very experienced who want to get on the water right now, because it is fun for them, it is very dangerous because when they do run into problems, like we had on Saturday and while we are trained for those types of rescues, it does put our people at great risk.”

When Tropical Storm Cindy reached central Indiana Friday, the White River Canoe Company closed down and has not been open for canoe and kayak rentals ever since. The Noblesville business' launching and landing area was still under water Monday at noon.

“You got to use common sense on when you go on the river and when you don’t," Brian Cooley, the owner of White River Canoe Company, said. "When you can run operations and when you can’t.”

Cooley said he uses the U.S. Geological Survey to help determine when to close and when it's safe to re-open. Click here for the latest data on Indiana rivers. The USGS measures a river's height and the pace of the river.

Cooley said the White River, which he uses for his business has begun dropping and should be ready to open Tuesday. However, it could come with some restrictions.

“There are times when I don’t want a 6-year-old kid in a canoe," Cooley said, which is why his company has self-imposed rules to determine would is safe under which conditions. "There are times when it’s adults only in kayaks. We have all those different standards."

Cooley said the Fourth of July is one of the four big holiday weekends for his business during each summer and will continue to watch river conditions as the holiday weekend approaches.

“You don’t want a washout during those times, but again, you have to use good judgment on whether you should be running or not," said Cooley.

Jones said he'd like to see rescue agencies work with the DNR to determine when rivers should be closed to swimmers or canoe and kayak paddlers due to safety.

For now, the best officials can do is ask everyone to wear a life jacket, rather than just keep it on board.

“We need people to wear their life jackets because they do no good to you when you get overturned and that water is moving so quick that it washes the life jacket away from you," said Jones.

Indiana law requires children under 13 to have their life jackets on at all times.

“We want our people in their life jackets when they launch," said Cooley. "It’s the law you have to have it with you – it’s an expense fine if you don’t. It’s common sense to wear it, particularly when the water conditions or the temperatures are more aggressive.”

A fine could cost as much as $500 for each life jacket missing for a paddler or any boat passenger.