‘I think it’s extremely useful’: 2 special swift-water lifeguards saving lives along American River Confluence

Local News

AUBURN, Calif. (KTXL) — The California State Parks system has a new type of lifeguard that is already saving lives at one of the busiest waterways in our area, the middle fork of the American River near Auburn.

The State Park system was one of the first in the nation to have a lifeguard service. Their first lifeguards date back to the 1930s.

Now, the swift-water lifeguards are starting a new chapter in lifeguarding at the American River Confluence.

These are not your typical lifeguards: The swift-water lifeguards are trained in complex rescues, and are using lots of gear that can and is already saving lives.

“We’ve had a lot of technical rope rescues with them and had a few rescues by ourselves, just pulling people safely from one side of the river to the other,” explained lifeguard Gordon Pershall.

These swift-water lifeguards are a first for the entire California State Park system.

Pershall and Wyatt Jackson, the only two swift-water lifeguards, are already patrolling the shores of the confluence, one of the busiest in the park.

“I think it’s extremely useful. A lot of the public doesn’t know about the potential dangers in the park,” Jackson told FOX40.

The area is dangerous because the level of the middle fork of the American River changes dramatically as the water gets released upstream for rafters in the afternoons.

“Highly useful to be out here and talking to people at the water’s edge,” Pershall said. “Because oftentimes they do not know how dangerous the water is.”

So far, these swift-water lifeguards have been called out for rescues or assists almost every day.

“They have had eight swift-water rescues with May, and 300-plus incidents where they have actually got hands-on people to prevent a rescue from happening,” Lauren Shoemaker, the supervising State Park peace officer, told FOX40.

Pershall and Jackson were trained by the Placer County Fire Department and the Placer County Sheriff’s Office.

Their medical training also allows them to help out with rescues on trails and other hard-to-reach parts of the park.

“They had worked on things like bike accidents where we have medics,” Shoemaker said. 

Already, they have been so heavily utilized that the State Park believes the program will grow.

“Our goal is to actually be a starter program to help expand the lifeguards’ program throughout the state, especially in the swift-water environment,” Shoemaker explained. 

Pershall and Jackson will be on patrol all weekend, through the summer and into the fall.

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