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Rescue Teams Sharpen Skills as Storms Hit Southern California

CASTAIC, Calif. -- About 100 firefighters, lifeguards and other emergency responders from the Los Angeles area sharpened their water-rescue skills Wednesday at Castaic Lake.

County officials used the exercise to get out their Stay Away & Stay Alive! message, urging people -- especially children -- to stay out of flood control channels and local urban rivers, particularly during the rainy season.

The message comes ahead of a storm expected later tonight that weather officials say could drop between 2 and 5 inches of rain through Sunday.

Stay away from the rivers to stay alive, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Derrick Chapman said.

Local swift water rescue teams respond to an average of 100 calls per year, with children ages 5 to 15 comprising the majority of those rescues.

The event was organized by the Los Angeles County Fire Department in conjunction with the county s Office of Education and Department of Public Works.

More than a dozen students from Santa Clarita middle schools watched as a Blackhawk helicopter hovered over a portion of the lake and dropped a wire with an orange capture ball in the water.

The rescuer and victim hooked onto it and the rescuer used hand signals to communicate with the individuals in the helicopter. They were pulled out of the water and then dropped onshore.

Several of the students captured the dramatic mock rescues on their camera phones before they got sprayed with sand from the helicopter s powerful rotors.

The students then watched rescuers on personal watercraft zoom through the water. Inflatable rescue boats were the last stop.

Fire officials stressed that rescue conditions aren t like the picture-perfect ones at Castaic Lake on Wednesday.

People need to realize when they go into the flood control channel, they are not only endangering their lives but also the lives of all rescuers, said Jason Hurd, a Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesman.

Fast-moving water filled with debris such as cars, couches and shopping carts makes a dangerous situation even more treacherous.

It s muddy. It s cold. It s dirty, Chapman said. You usually get sick afterwards.

If you do fall into a storm channel, firefighters say you should try to float on your back and point your feet down river. Once you have been spotted, you should not shout, which will help you conserve energy, they said.

Megan Badovinac, an eighth-grader at La Mesa Junior High School in Canyon Country, said she got the message to stay out of the water.

It s really dangerous, things like this, the 13-year-old Canyon Country resident said.

Hannah Langley, an eighth-grader at Arroyo Seco Middle School in Valencia, said no one should go into a channel.

It s not worth it, said Hannah, 13, of Santa Clarita.

The students were given county public service announcements and videos Hedd No Way Out and Danger! Debris Flow to share with their classmates.

The county s campaign also focuses on the dangers of flash floods, mudslides or debris flows in areas burned in the recent wildfires.

jerry.berrios@dailynews.com

661-257-5253

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