Billings Fire Department warns of safety hazard on Yellowstone as river levels rise | New

Billings Fire Department press release:

BILLINGS – This month’s rainfall, warming temperatures and resulting snowmelt have been the perfect recipe for a fast, high-flowing Yellowstone River.

With that in mind, the Billings Fire Department urges our community to refrain from recreating on the Yellowstone.

Over the past month, the river’s flow has increased 10-fold, from 3,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) in the first week of May to 34,000 CFS on the morning of June 8.

“At this rate, there is a lot of force behind this river, and the river itself is swollen beyond its normal banks, and so it starts picking up debris and carrying things down the current with it” , explained the engineer of the fire department of the city of Billings. Marc Rickbeil.

Rickbeil acknowledges that the appearance of water can be deceiving and understanding the power and nature of water can be difficult.

Rickbeil uses a basketball analogy to describe 34,000 CFS.

He said to imagine 34,000 basketballs going past you every second.

Each cubic foot of water contains approximately 7.5 gallons and each gallon weighs just over 8 pounds.

“So each cubic foot represents 56 pounds of pressure pushing against you. So if you get caught in the river and entangled in one of the colanders, it’s incredibly difficult to free yourself and do any sort of self-rescue,” Rickbeil said.

One of the biggest concerns for firefighters is the area below the proposed Interstate 90 Yellowstone River.

Natural debris from the river accumulates on the project’s temporary piers and bridges, creating a strainer or narrow path for water to flow, which can pose a threat to anyone floating in the river.

“It is restricted in width, but also in height. It’s a much lower clearance now and if we see the river rising due to warming temperatures or melting snow or heavy rain, the ability to get under that bridge becomes more difficult,” Rickbeil said.

Since the Billings Fire Department implemented its water rescue boat program in 2018, there have been an average of 10 rescues each summer.

This figure is concerning because warmer temperatures are expected this weekend, which not only means higher river levels due to melting snow, but it could encourage people to get in the water for refresh.

Wednesday’s river water temperature is hovering in the lower 50 degree Fahrenheit range.

“Within 15 minutes at this water temperature you start to lose dexterity in your extremities and therefore your ability to grab an object to help you save yourself, whether it’s a rescue rope that we’re deploying, or even a member you are. trying to hold on when you’re going past something, it gets harder and harder when you’re in that water,” Rickbeil said.

Any recreational activity on the river should include a life jacket, which Rickbeil said the fire department has seen a surprising number of people go without.

“If people are here, we really encourage them to use a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket, preferably one designed for whitewater situations,” he said.

Information on finding the right life jacket is available on the US Coast Guard website.

Another useful resource is BoatUS.org.


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Susan W. Lloyd