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El Paso firefighters brace for rise in water rescues due to migrant surge

EL PASO, Texas -- The El Paso Fire Department says it is expecting an increase in water rescues this summer as the Borderland experiences an influx of migrants to at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Right now there is no water in the canal but it will be here soon," Fire Capt. Kris Melendez said.

Melendez and EPFD's Water Rescue team are training for the expected surge in rescues this summer when the water starts flowing through the canals. They train once a month at Ascarate Lake with boats and scuba gear.

Melendez says this year the increased height of the border wall will cause more injuries as people try to climb over it.

"If they injure their legs and fall into the canal, pretty much all they have is their upper body to try and get out of the moving water, which makes it very difficult,” Melendez explained.

EPFD's Water Rescue team uses boats to save people from drowning. Each boat has two people - a tellerman, who steers the boat, and a spotter who searches for victims and other hazards at the front of the boat.

Rescuers can pull people out of the water and speed them back to shore with the boat. Other rescues do not need a boat; sometimes rescuers can use a throw bag which has a rope.

The person in the water will grab onto the rope and a rescuer on shore can pull them in.

EPFD wants to warn people not to try and cross the Rio Grande because it creates an unsafe situation for everyone involved.

"Stay out of the water. It looks like it’s going slow but I promise it can sweep you down and take you all the way down stream where we have a lot of dangers,” Melendez said.

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Dylan McKim



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