MCFRS News Release

Potomac River Safety Conference Renew Joint Effort To Keep Potomac River Gorge Accidental Drownings to Zero

National Park Service, U. S. Park Police, D.C. Police Harbor Patrol, Montgomery, Fairfax County’s Fire and Rescue Departments, Partner Organizations Renew Joint Effort to keep Potomac River Gorge Accidental Drownings to Zero

Great Falls, VA – In a demonstration of inter-governmental agency and private organization cooperation, representatives from the National Park Service (NPS), the United States Park Police, District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Harbor Patrol, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and the Potomac Conservancy, R.E.I and American Whitewater Association—all of which comprise the Potomac River Safety Task Force—are renewing efforts to keep to zero the number of accidental drownings in the Potomac Gorge.

In 2004, five people accidentally drowned in the Potomac River Gorge, an area defined as extending from Key Bridge to just north of Great Falls. After combined efforts between all agencies and partner organizations to focus attention on methods to reduce accidental drownings, there were no accidental drownings in this area in 2005.

To recognize this public safety achievement, the NPS is awarding the Potomac River Safety Task Force with the Andrew Clark Hecht Public Safety Achievement Award, the NPS’ highest award bestowed by the NPS for outstanding public safety results. A check for $1,000.00 is being presented to the Greater Washington National Parks Fund and placed into an account for future efforts to further raise awareness of Potomac River safety.

Potomac River Safety Task Force efforts that helped garner the award include:

Effective Thursday, May 25, the NPS, U.S. Park Police, local governmental rescue agencies and non-governmental organizations are releasing a newly developed and updated “Potomac River Rescue Atlas,” a new, standardized series of maps to ensure consensus and consistent reference terminology of the Gorge among all agencies that will be used to streamline future rescue efforts.

Proposed additional efforts include developing a multi-agency database on incident injuries, deaths and rescues, studying ways to further promote unified command and communications among all agencies, maintaining adequate boat ramp facilities, maximizing training opportunities and establishing law enforcement agreements to maximize use of personnel.

“I am honored to present this award to the National Capital Region’s ‘Potomac River Safety Task Force’,” said NPS Director Fran P. Mainella. “This is a remarkable achievement that literally has saved lives. These are efforts we can all be proud of.”

“I’m pleased with the work among all agencies to try to reduce the number of drownings in the Potomac River Gorge,” said Joe Lawler, Regional Director of the National Capital Region. “The NPS will strive to keep drownings in this spectacular, but dangerous area at zero.”

“The United States Park Police is committed to continually raising the standard in terms of working with other local, county, state and federal agencies,” said U.S. Park Police Chief Dwight Pettiford. “We have a very strong basis from which to move forward.”

“With some of the largest area along the river to cover, Montgomery County will continue its commitment to the collective efforts that I believe are helping us to promote safety and reduce drownings in the Potomac River Gorge,” said Fire Chief Tom Carr, of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service. “With the good working relationships that exist, I’m confident we will work hard to keep zero drownings in the Gorge. But, we can do better than zero drownings, we can prevent injuries and accidents near the shorelines, as well.”

“The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department is and continues to be a major player in supporting water and boating safety in the Potomac River Gorge. As the largest jurisdiction in the Washington, D.C. area, Fairfax County firefighters and paramedics are committed to reducing drownings, injuries, and raising public awareness of personal safety on the Potomac River,'' said Fire Chief Michael Neuhard, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue spokesman.

“This cooperative effort involving the Metropolitan Police Department, the National Park Service and the other National Capital Region agencies will continue to reduce accidental drowning deaths on the Potomac River,” said Commander Cathy Lanier of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Special Operations Division, which oversees the Harbor Patrol Unit.

“Partnerships that work and that help bridge the gap in communications and working relationships between government agencies and private organizations are what is at work here between the National Park Service and the Potomac Conservancy,” said Matthew Logan, President of the Potomac Conservancy. “We look forward to many years of a strong working relationship with all other agencies who work on the Potomac River.”

“Educating our members and raising awareness of other river enthusiasts about wearing a life jacket is the single, most important action anyone can take,” said Jason Robertson of the American Whitewater Association. “Inappropriate life jacket use accounts for at least half of all fatalities on the water.”