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COVID-19 shutters river rescues at Glenn Otto, High Rocks Park this swimming season

PMG FILE PHOTO - There will be no AMR lifeguards on duty at Glenn Otto Community Park or High Rocks Park this summer. Last summer, Troutdale celebrated the installation of a bronze sculpture honoring a partnership that brought river rescues and safety to a popular swimming hole.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the American Medical Response program to patrol the Sandy River at Glenn Otto Community Park, local artist Chad Caswell was tapped to create a pair of statues — a male and female lifeguard standing watch over the river.

The AMR program has been wildly successful in the two decades since it was implemented. In 1999, AMR river rescue technicians — known colloquially as lifeguards — began patrolling the deceptively dangerous section of the Sandy River in Troutdale. The program expanded to High Rocks Park in Gladstone in 2002.

Those trained lifeguards would make as many as 20 assists on a hot, busy day at the two beaches, and when no one was in obvious distress, they would patrol the beach and encourage swimmers to wear life jackets.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Drownings on the Sandy River drastically decreased in Troutdale after bringing AMR lifeguards to Glenn Otto Park. But this summer, there will be no lifeguards on duty at either river.

AMR announced Thursday, May 28, that its River Rescue Team will not be present at either Glenn Otto nor High Rocks Park. They will remain off-duty indefinitely — until the team can conduct yearly U.S. Lifesaving Association training requirements, which have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group said there are no facilities open to conduct the mandatory swim testing and training, nor is there a way of protecting rescuers from the virus while conducting contact rescues and resuscitations on swimmers in distress.

Their absence will be felt. Only three drowning deaths have occurred at either park since the patrols began, with lifeguards completing 63 water rescues and 1,200 assists in that time. In comparison, East Multnomah County was rocked last summer by a trio of drownings during a deadly summer of swimming. An 8-year-old and 15-year-old died at Oxbow Regional Park and an adult swimmer drowned at Rooster Rock State Park on the Columbia River. Oxbow does not have any trained lifeguards on duty.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Since the program was implemented, there have been only three drownings in two decades at Glenn Otto Park and High Rocks Park. In the absence of trained professionals, officials warn swimmers to be extra cautious. Life jackets are freely available at the entrance to Glenn Otto Community Park, and officials strongly recommend children always wear one when near a body of water.

Other safety tips include:

• Wearing a life jacket when in or near the water

• Being wary of the risk of cold shock due to frigid spring water temperatures

• Looking for hazards in the water like swift currents and debris

• Reading and following all signage


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