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Firefighters rescue five from river by Ripon

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POSTED June 28, 2017 12:30 a.m.

Five family members trying to raft the cold and swift moving Stanislaus River were rescued Tuesday afternoon by Ripon firefighters who found them forced up against a log jam near Mohler and Moncure roads west of the Jack Tone Golf Course.
Ripon Fire Chief Dennis Bitters said all the victims were out of the water by 4:35 p.m., some 40 minutes after the 911 call was made by the group using a cellphone.
The fire call brought firefighters from several agencies including Lathrop-Manteca Fire Department and the Manteca Fire Department. The Ripon boat crew located the group that ranged in age from a 6-year-old child to a 60-year-old woman. Others in the group were said to be 12, 18 and 38 years old.
The Lathrop-Manteca boat crew responded with two boats but were cancelled as they pulled up to the scene, according to Lathrop’s Battalion Chief Larry Madoski. The Manteca boat was also cancelled.
Ripon Fire Chief Dennis Bitters said it is “impossible to float down the river” because of log jams as the river nears Caswell State Park.  The fire chief noted they were all wearing life jackets and weren’t doing anything wrong.  As the rescue Ripon boat approached they noted it was the 12-year-old with the cellphone who had made the 9-1-1 call for help, the chief said.  
“It’s even dangerous for us on the river,” the chief said, “but most people just seem to think we are trying to keep them from having fun when we warn them of the dangers. They often tell us they know what they are doing.” 
Chief Bitter lauded his boat crew where he serves as the on-board battalion chief, adding that it was just a month ago when that crew located the body of a missing man in the water near the Spring Creek Country Club.  He added that his firefighters have made two other rescues off the same log jam and even more up and down the river in the heavy runoff from the Sierra snowmelt. 
He said they could only accommodate three victims in their rescue boat and had to return for the others after leaving the first group with sheriff’s deputies on the shore upstream.
His crew Tuesday included engineer Josh Bodeson, Captain Ole Cook, firefighter paramedic Carey Gregg, and firefighter Pedro Avalos, the boat operator. 
The Stanislaus River has a history of drownings involving people drawn to its park area at the historic Caswell Recreation Area seeking swimming fun, picnics and relief from the summer heat. Many are not aware of the dangers involved with the swiftly moving river and do not wear or see the need for life vests. 
Two have died in the Stanislaus River this year including a man near Knights Ferry.
The Manteca Fire Department is offering free loaner life vests to those planning on visiting either the Stanislaus or the San Joaquin River. They have had few takers despite recent publicity on their availability at the Union Road station near the Highway 120 Bypass. Fire personnel say the vests are just hanging in the department gathering dust.
And recently, teenagers were photographed frolicking in rafts on the river apparently unaware of its depth, its speed and temperature of the water that would make it almost impossible for them to swim to safety.
In past years the Ripon Police Department made use of a small aviation unit provided by the Department of Justice for a three-year program.  Hearing a drowning call for help either Lt. Merchant or Chief Ormonde would have the aircraft in the air within 15 to 20 minutes from nearby Mistlin Sports Park and would locate stranded swimmers and rafters snagged by undergrowth or washed up on the shores or forced into logs in the river – a great help to the ground and boat search parties – often saving a life with their speedy airborne response. 
Within the last 10 days Ripon firefighters rescued a man who had run after a ball into the river and was swept away by the current – being snagged by a tree in the frigid water where he was quickly located by the rescue boat crew and returned to shore.
Bitters repeatedly stressed that rafters cannot float to Caswell State Park without being stopped by the huge log jam.

 To contact Glenn Kahl, email gkahl@mantecabulletin.com.

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