How to Put Safety First
When Visiting the River
After the deaths of five people in the Potomac Gorge last year, officials from several agencies stepped up their efforts to alert people to the hazards of the river's whitewater. Some safety tips for visiting the gorge, roughly defined as the 14-mile stretch between Key Bridge and the Aqueduct Dam above Great Falls, include:
* Do not swim or wade in the river. All parts of the river, even areas that appear to be placid on the surface, have extremely strong currents and undertows.
* Stay off rocks at the river's edge. Several of last year's deaths resulted from people stepping onto rocks in the river.
* Fish only from the shore.
* Do not drink alcohol.
* If you find yourself in cold water, try not to panic. Keep movement to a minimum. If you have to tread water, do it slowly. This reduces heat loss.
* In swift water, point your toes downstream and try to get to the closest object, a rock or a log. Don't tire yourself out trying to swim.
* The first hazards of cold water are panic and shock, which can strain the body. Cold can quickly numb the extremities, and cold hands may be unable to fasten the straps of a life jacket or grasp a rescue line.
SOURCES: Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, National Park Service