Leaders celebrate two decades of river rescues, warn visitors of cold water hazards

May 31, 2022

Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson speaks alongside River Rescue Program lifeguards at Glen Otto Park on May 27, 2022.

The Sandy River runs fast and cold enough to paralyze swimmers with “cold shock.” At an event May 27, Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson joined lifeguards and Troutdale and Clackamas County leaders in lifting up river safety and marking 22 years of a rescue program that has repeatedly saved lives.

At an unveiling of a new commemorative sculpture at Glen Otto Park in Troutdale, Commissioner Vega Pederson praised American Medical Response’s (AMR) river rescue teams, noting their work lending life jackets to visitors, teaching drowning prevention, and taking swift action whenever someone gets into trouble in the water.

“With more than 150 rescues last year, there is no doubt this team has saved lives and made our community safer,” she said. “The number of people they’ve saved in over 20 years of existence must be well over 1,000. That is incredible.”

Officials applaud the AMR River Rescue statue unveiled at Glen Otto Park in Troutdale.

Plaques honor the rescue program founders and contributors to the sculpture by Caswell Sculpture.

The Commissioner spoke alongside a newly installed bronze statue of two life-size river rescuers at Glen Otto Park on the Sandy River. The statue, commissioned by the city of Troutdale and the Troutdale Booster Club, was created by Chad Caswell of Caswell Sculpture of Troutdale.

The River Rescue Program began in Troutdale in 1999 when AMR partnered with local city leaders and boosters to try to reduce the number of drownings and prevent the closure of the heavily used Glenn Otto Park. Since then, AMR has provided two lifeguards on the Sandy River between Memorial Day and Labor Day because the current is strong enough, and the river water is cold enough, to cause “cold shock” that can paralyze swimmers in minutes. Swift currents and debris can also entrap swimmers. And because river flows can change quickly, conditions can become dangerous overnight.

A spokeswoman said all of AMR’s lifeguards are EMTs or paramedics with swimming or lifeguard experience. They attend AMR’s River Rescue training academy and are certified as U.S. Lifeguard Association Open Water Lifeguards, specializing in swiftwater rescue.

AMR also used the event to collect life jacket donations for AMR and the Oregon Water Safety Task Force to distribute to community groups. Last August, Commissioner Lori Stegmann joined the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office’s River Patrol in donating 60 lifejackets at kiosks across County waterways. 

At the Friday event, Commissioner Vega Pederson thanked the river rescue crew “for your strength, dedication and expertise. Your job is not easy,” she said. “But it is so important.”

If you are considering visiting Oregon’s rivers, AMR lifeguards say drowning is preventable:

  • Swim only in safe areas (i.e. avoid rapids, waterfalls, rocks, super-cold water, etc.)
  • Constantly supervise children in and around water. Don’t get distracted or leave even for a few seconds.
  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket when in and around water —- especially important for children and non-swimming adults. (Water wings are not life jackets!)
  • Be aware of cold shock — which can weaken even the strongest swimmers.
  • Assign a “Water Watcher” — a responsible adult to supervise children around water at all times! Never leave children alone or unsupervised near water! 
  • Throw a flotation device and go for help — don't jump in unless you are trained.
  • Learn to swim.
  • Learn CPR.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Do not use alcohol and drugs when swimming or boating.

River rescue teams conduct a training demonstration during the event.

Program lifeguards demonstrate a river rescue.

Crews demonstrate a rescue at the May 27 event.

AMR’s lifeguards are EMTs or paramedics with swimming or lifeguard experience and swift-water rescue training.