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Santa Barbara Co. first responders ramp up water rescue efforts after storm

water rescue
Posted at 6:23 PM, Jan 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-06 22:50:10-05

As a result of this week's storm, larger and more powerful waves have been hitting the San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara county coastlines.

On Friday, at Santa Barbara County Fire Station 11 in Goleta, jet skis are at the ready and the Water and Cliff Rescue Team is on standby for distress calls. Even though the sun was shining, Capt. David Tolmach is urging people to think twice before getting in the water.

Friday morning, Capt. Tolmach and other first responders were in action, tending to a surfer who had ventured into the ocean but was swept up by the strong current from Devereux Point down toward Isla Vista.

"We were able to locate the victim, send a rescuer down with a rope rescue system and do a high-angle pickoff with him and bring him back up," Tolmach explained. "He was assessed after that and had no further injuries."

In preparation for situations like these, Tolmach says Fire Station 11 and other departments have ramped up rescue efforts countywide.

"We have 50 trained personnel. We have four of these boats staffed every day, including inflatable rescue boats. We work hand in hand with the Coast Guard, Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol, and we integrate with the other fire departments and engines that come," he added.

In spite of the warnings, some locals at Stearn's Wharf on Friday were not deterred from taking on the big waves.

"Yesterday was insane!" Erin Wagner told KSBY. "I don't think I have ever seen waves that big before."

"I was out at Sandpit with a buddy. We tried to paddle out a few times. The waves were huge. A lot of wind and some rain too," said Cole Anderson.

But Tolmach warns those strong waves should make you think twice about jumping in the ocean for a surf.

"People are really excited to get out into the water, but right now we have very high and dangerous surf, and we definitely recommend that any inexperienced swimmers don’t go out in the water right now. Even the gentleman today was an experienced surfer," he warned.

Nonetheless, as Stearn's Wharf reopened Friday, those we spoke to were out walking the pier and soaking in the sunny day.

"We couldn’t come here yesterday. We were over on the breakwater, and we saw how high the waves were coming on the pier. It is understandable why they closed it," Wagner said.

The fire department also says a rescue helicopter has been stationed at Santa Barbara County Airport to provide a quicker response to distress calls that happen offshore.