June 29, 2014

Public warned of water dangers

PLATTSBURGH — Warm, sunny days may be perfect for enjoying time at local watering holes, but a local rescue expert warns that danger is always lurking.

"The best thing to do if you don't have knowledge of the water or the skills and equipment to deal with it is to stay away from it," said Donald Uhler, team leader of the Clinton County Adirondack Technical Rescue Task Force.

"The end result could be tragic."

Uhler was in Buffalo this week teaching a rescue class so he did not visit the area on the Ausable River known as The Flume where two Plattsburgh High School students apparently drowned Thursday.

But he is familiar with the site and other popular spots in the region.

He said people may be lulled into thinking that area rivers and streams are safe this time of year because they are not raging as much or as cold as they are in April and May.

But heavy rainfalls, such as what occurred last Tuesday and Wednesday, can raise the water levels 6 to 8 inches at a time, and the water is still quite cold.

"People think that cold water is 40 degrees, but we describe cold water as anything below 70 degrees, and most rivers and streams around here never get above 70," Uhler said.

Swimming in cold water causes the body to use up energy much more quickly, and swimmers can become exhausted in a hurry, making it harder to rescue themselves, Uhler said.

When water is raging in a river, it often flows over obstacles such as large rocks, trees, stumps and natural cliffs. When moving water flows over an object, Uhler explained, it creates strong turbulence and undercurrents.

"It's kind of like a washing machine," he said.

"It can be very difficult to get out, and sometimes you almost get out and then get sucked back in."

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