Poudre Fire Authority launches “Play it Safe on the Poudre,” promotes river safety

Ravyn Cullor

Poudre Fire Authority announced the launch of a safety program, “Play it Safe on the Poudre,” in a press release this week in response to two deaths on the Poudre River in summer 2017.

PFA will be running the initiative during summer 2018 to warn river recreators of the dangers of what can be a cold and fast running river.

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“Play it Safe on the Poudre” will install signs along the river ahead of low-head dams in the hope that recreators will have time to get out of the water. They will also install river-safety information and maps with safety tips and instructs on what to do in an emergency.

According to the release, hazards include fallen branches underneath the waters’ surface which can, “snag a person out for a lazy afternoon tubing trip,” and the dangers of cold waters after snow runoff. Cold water can both slow reaction time and cause hypothermia.

“We wouldn’t dissuade peoples’ love for (the Poudre River),” said PFA spokeswoman Madeline Noblett in the release. “But the river is equal parts beautiful and destructive. Its power is easy to underestimate, and river-related tragedy can befall anyone at any time.”

Summer 2017 saw two deaths on the Poudre. The first happened when 64-year-old William McHarg fell out of a raft and died of a heart attack and drowning.

The second occurred in June 2017, when 18-year-old Maximilian Gonzalez from Seattle and his cousin were caught in a low-head dam while tubing near Bellvue. Gonzalez later died from his injuries, but his cousin survived.

Low-head dams are in various locations along the Poudre to slow water before entering ditches. According to the press release, while the low-head dams appear easy to tube, kayak or raft down, the steep drop causes recirculating currents and large hydraulic forces which, “can easily injure and trap people and water vessels.”

A number of other local agencies in the City of Fort Collins will join in the initiative, including the city’s Natural Areas Department, Poudre Heritage Alliance for the Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, Larimer County Emergency Services and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“Our hearts go out to everyone affected by these devastating events; they’ve faced unimaginable loss,” Noblett said. “We also want our community to know that we can work together to minimize these tragedies. The keys are education, awareness, which lead to changes in behavior. This is the crux of community risk reduction – the heart and soul of the work to which we commit ourselves.”

Collegian reporter Ravyn Cullor can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @RCullor99.