Rescue a reminder to avoid old dam
In the wake of another river rescue near the old power dam in south Gardnerville, the message from first-responders is simple: do not swim there.
“We’ve had several people die over the years in there,” East Fork Dep. Fire Chief Steve Eisele said Thursday. “Swim up above or far downstream, but not immediately below the dam. There’s been many years of deterioration. Deposits of material are always changing and creating bad eddies and undertows.”
At approximately 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, East Fork Fire & Paramedic Districts, Douglas County Search and Rescue, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, and Washoe Tribal Police responded to a call of two people stuck in the pools below the dam, where the East Fork of the Carson River spills into the Valley.
Eisele said rescue crews found two teenage boys clinging to the rocks on the west side of the river. The boys were stranded, caught between 40-foot cliffs on one side and the ice-cold water below.
“We put people on the river in case they fell back in,” he said. “And instead of putting the kids back in the river, we set up a rope-rescue over the face of the cliffs. We hooked them into harnesses, gave them life jackets and helmets in case they fell back, and hoisted them up the side. That way neither the victims nor the rescuers had to get back in the water.”
The rescue operation took about two hours, Eisele said. The two victims were uninjured but fatigued. Unfortunately, he said, the spectacle of a river rescue did not prevent other swimmers in the area from endangering themselves.
“We had a ton of people out there,” he said. “We actually had more kids jumping in on the east side of the river while we were up there.”
While Eisele welcomes the use of public land, he also wants to warn people to be extra cautious near the river. “The water still has a high rate of flow,” he said. “And the water is cold right now.”
In the summer heat, the pools below the old dam often appear deep and inviting. But since the 1997 flood breached the structure, the river-bottom has become an underwater debris field of fragmented concrete and rebar, creating a vortex of deadly currents.
In June 2009, a day before Douglas High School graduation, 17-year-old Kevin Telles jumped off the same rocks and didn’t come up. Friends found him, face-down and unconscious, nearly 50 yards downstream. They pulled him from the river and began CPR.
Telles was later flown by helicopter to a Reno hospital. After four days in intensive care, he recovered, but not without strong words from his mother.
“He’s never going back to that river again,” Vivian Telles said in a previous interview. “Once I understood everything, it was hard for me to take in that he’d actually drowned. The worst part was when he was in intensive care for four nights, using a ventilator tube.”
Eisele said first-responders have been called to the old dam several times this summer. While Wednesday’s incident was the worst so far this season, he fears there will be more like it if swimmers do not heed the warnings. “People need to be aware,” he said.