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L.A. Fire rescue teams pre-deployed as heavy storms approach

December 21, 2010 |  3:22 pm

Five swift-water rescue and two urban search-and-rescue teams have been pre-deployed to various locations in Los Angeles as the city Fire Department prepares for potential rain-related problems in the face of coming storms, a battalion chief said Tuesday.

Jack Wise of the Los Angeles Fire Department warned citizens during a news conference Tuesday at Fire Station 88 in Sherman Oaks to stay away from water channels lest they get swept up in the torrent.

"Stay out of the hills, stay out of the flood control channels; this is not a playground; this is no time to do extreme sports," he said.

The National Weather Service is warning that the next storm could bring thunderstorms, hail and even waterspouts and tornadoes along the Southern California coast early Wednesday.

The specialty Fire Department teams -- equipped with rafts and heavy tractors -- were pre-deployed last weekend as well. Some are stationed in the hillsides, which have the potential to give way to mudslides.

"We're anticipating more rain and more wind, and we have to anticipate that it could bring down the hillside and more damage...every place is our concern" Wise said.

Wise said the special teams are prepared for any event.

They "are the best of the best, they're literally the Green Berets of the Fire Department," Wise said, adding that the teams go through about 100 hours of training every month.

He said that the main flood control channels were doing their jobs but that water levels could range from 6 feet to 20 feet deep. He urged community members to call 911 if they see someone caught in a channel; they should not attempt a rescue effort themselves, he said.

"About two-thirds of would-be victims are would-be rescuers," he said. "It's very dangerous, even 6 inches of water in the flood control channels is enough to wash you down the river and there's no lifeguards out there, there's nobody to hear you scream, there's nobody out there."

-- Nardine Saad in Sherman Oaks