Firefighters urge caution on Animas River

June is busiest month for swift-water rescues in Farmington

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
San Juan College student Sean Henkenius, River Reach Foundation board member Rick Page, San Juan College facility manager Jill Ward and San Juan College student Jeffery Downing ride the rapids March 15 at the Penny Lane Dam in Farmington


FARMINGTON – The Farmington Fire Department is encouraging people to take safety precautions on the Animas River after a pair of incidents earlier this week led swift-water rescue personnel to respond.

June is the busiest month for swift-water rescues in Farmington, according to Deputy Fire Chief David Burke. 

There were 11 calls in 2016 with six of them in June. For this year, there have been four calls, and all of them occurred this month, according to Burke. 

Two of the calls occurred on Thursday near Berg and Boyd parks within two hours of each other. 

Firefighters were dispatched at 3:06 p.m. Thursday to a report of a man in the river who was holding onto the Williams Street Bridge, according to Burke. 

Lt. Shadd Rohwer, a member of the Farmington Fire Department tech rescue team, said the man waded into the water near Boyd Park until he was waist deep and was swept off his feet. 

Firefighters threw him a rope to grab, but he missed it, according to Rohwer. A firefighter went into the river to help extract him.

The man was taken to the San Juan Regional Medical Center for evaluation.

Festival goers ride a raft down the Animas River on May 23, 2015, during the Riverfest celebration in Farmington.


At 4:40 p.m. Thursday, firefighters were dispatched to Berg Park near the All Veterans Memorial Plaza in regard to a man and woman who were hanging to the side of their raft in the river. The rafters were able to pull themselves from the river onto the shore, Burke said. 

Rohwer said most of the calls the team responds to are in the park areas where the trails are near the Animas River.

He said the public should know about the dangers of being in the river at this time of year as the snowmelt in Colorado enters the river, increasing its discharge and lowering the water temperature.

The river had a peak release of about 4,980 cubic feet of water around June 11, according to U.S. Geological Survey Water data.

The Animas River had a release of about 3,170 CFS on Friday evening. 

Rowher said the release is at its highest point around 2:30 to 3 p.m. daily, and the water temperature for the river is about 40 degrees. A person in the water who is not wearing thermal protection could develop hypothermia in about four minutes at that temperature, according to Rowher.

Rowher said the man rescued near the William Street bridge was so cold, he could not close his hands to grasp the rope. He added a person in the river could become hypothermic in the time it takes firefighters to arrive on the scene.

The fire department recommends that people wear life jackets and thermal protection, including a wetsuit, when entering the river. 

Should a person enter the river and want to exit, Rowher said they should choose a spot where there is a safe shoreline and swim aggressively to get out of the water quickly.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.