Swift Water Rescue

Roles & Responsibilities

The Pierce County Sheriff's Department has established a Swiftwater Rescue Team that comprises officers from the search and rescue unit, dive team, and marine services. Officers go through extensive training and are specially equipped to respond within moments of a swiftwater page to the rivers and streams in Pierce County.

Hazardous Situations

Moving water poses an especially hazardous environment to people playing in and around our rivers and to responders who must respond to those in trouble. When rising floodwaters strand people in their homes or when motorists attempt to drive across flooded roads the hazards are extreme. Every year in the United States, hundreds of people die from drowning and many of those are due to flooding of rivers and creeks. Every fall, Pierce County rivers have the potential to flood and have flooded with devastating results several times in the last 10 years. The Swiftwater Rescue Team has 26 trained officers and in the last five years they have responded to dozens of lifesaving incidents, recovered a number of bodies and have removed many vehicles from the rivers of our county.

Team Members

The Sheriff's Department has trained firefighters and volunteers to the same standard as our deputies and when a call goes out for a swiftwater rescue the response system includes local fire departments as well as deputies. Divers, search and rescue coordinators, boat operators and fire fighters all work together to give the fastest and most effective rescue response possible to those in need. The team has been called on several occasions to assist other jurisdictions.
swift 1.gif

Tips to Avoid Tragedy

Rivers in Washington are cold and contain many hidden hazards. A small degree of care and planning can help prevent a major tragedy:
  • Anyone floating, fishing or boating on rivers should always wear a proper fitting Personal Floatation Device (PFD) and protection from the cold water.
  • Avoid obstructions such as trees, rocks and bridge columns since the force of the moving water can pin boats, rafts and people against them with deadly results.
  • If you live in an area of flooding or are driving along flooding river valleys, drive slowly to avoid washouts, and never drive around barricades or across flooded roadways. Rescue from floodwaters is very difficult and dangerous.
  • Keep small children away from rivers and don't take them with you if you are going to float the river. Even slow moving water has tremendous, unrelenting power and you will need all your strength to save just yourself if you end up in the water.
  • Never drink alcoholic beverages while on the river because alcohol and cold water creates a deadly combination.
  • Small inner tubes and plastic rafts are not designed for use on rivers, so don't use them there.

For More Information

For more information, contact the Pierce County Sheriff's Department administration at (253) 798-7530.