The firefighters at Station 30 of Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department know that if it is a weekend during the summer, it is very likely they will be on the river at some point.
Station 30, located at 9404 Falls Road, is equipped to respond to river rescues in the Potomac area, a majority of which happen on the river between Old Angler's Inn and Great Falls Park. The station, staffed by professional firefighters, responds to about 70 every year, and most of them are between Memorial Day and Labor Day, said Assistant River Rescue Team Leader Donnie Simmons.
"If you come in to work on a Saturday and it is nice outside, you better pull the boats outs because you'll be on [the river] at some point today," Simmons said.
This summer, the number of calls and responses the station received were on par with previous years.
But this year, two people drowned in the river — after four years without any drownings in the area. A mother and daughter drowned in the Potomac River over Memorial Day weekend after hiking on the Virginia side of the river near Difficult Run Trail.
Station 30's firefighters receive calls about slips, trips or falls on trails around the river and respond by accessing them through the closest point in the river. A majority of calls are because of injuries on the Billy Goat Trail in Potomac. Sometimes, the station responds to calls about kayakers in trouble on the river.
"A lot of times it is easier to access people by getting to them through the river than to hike the entire trail to find them," Simmons said. "We can get to them quicker and safer."
All six team members at Station 30 are trained in both fire and river rescue and respond in the case of a river rescue. When a river rescue occurs, the six firefighters go out with three vehicles, two boats and one ambulance. The Montgomery County Park Police occasionally send one or two officers to respond to river rescues with the Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department, said Park Police spokesperson Sgt. Lauryn McNeill.
"We typically respond to flash flooding with [Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department], and we always work alongside fire and rescue because we have 35,000 acres of land we cover throughout the county," McNeill said.
The station has five different types of boats that can be used in different types of water rescue. Some boats deal with low waters, while others are equipped for ice rescues. For most of the responses, firefighters use a durable inflatable rubber boat.
Although the firefighters respond to more fires than river rescues each year, the river needs their attention year-round. Firefighters respond to about four ice rescues each winter.
River safety is vital when people are around the river, Simmons said. It is illegal to swim and wade in the Potomac River, and people need to remember to respect the water and the area around it, he stressed.
"Many people are hurt when the river level is lower because they think they can go farther into the river without paying for it," Simmons said. "The river may seem calm, but it can carry you away and be treacherous."