3 rescues in 1 day on Kiski River sets record for Leechburg fire company
Still in his wet clothes, Gary Lyon left his home Saturday afternoon after rescuing three people and a dog on the Kiski River for another rescue involving three more people, this time on an inflatable tube shaped like a unicorn.
Three adults boarded the 12-foot unicorn in Vandergrift, planning to end their ride at the Leechburg boat ramp, but they couldn’t control their tube to get off the river and got hung up in submerged trees in one of the spots where kayakers were pinned just hours earlier, according to Lyon.
“It wasn’t even a boat,” Lyon said of the large tube, amazed it made its way safely for several miles on the swollen river.
The series of three rescues in one day set an all-time record for the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Department No. 150 water rescue and dive team, according to its captain, Joe Clark.
With much lower water levels Tuesday night, the firefighters and rescue team members planned to retrieve the kayaks and unicorn tube. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which is reporting on the incidents, requested that Clark and company try to remove the boats from the river.
“The river was crazy on Saturday,” said Clark.
The Kiski was running fast and high Friday into Saturday, taking some by surprise as two upstream reservoirs released water after getting socked by storms.
The rescues came almost as fast as the river current.
First were two of three kayakers who got stuck going after a dog that jumped out of one of the kayaks. Then, a third kayaker was rescued a little farther downriver.
Then, after the fire company put their equipment and boat back, the unicorn call came.
“All were stuck for the same reason,” Clark said. “They all said they didn’t realize how fast the water was.”
All were pinned by partially submerged trees and debris, unable to paddle out because of the strong current. Two of the kayaks were stuck in the portion of river behind the bocce ball courts of the Marconi Club in Leechburg while the third kayak and, later, the duck were stuck behind the Lower Kiski Ambulance building in Leechburg.
Although the water was treacherous, the company had everything under control, and there were no major injuries, although Lyon got bruised up a little.
The rescue boat, an aluminum flat boat with a shallow draft, did get stuck on rocks for one of the rescues, but Gilpin volunteer firefighters threw out a rope and pulled them in, according to Clark.
Looking for a common thread for the multiple rescues, Lyon theorized: “It’s been a long summer. People haven’t been able to use the river. It was warm Saturday, and they decided to get on the river.”
The series of rescues began because one of the kayakers called 911. Besides using common sense not to be on the river when it is high, rescuers want to remind the public to call 911 for boating emergencies to alert the Leechburg fire company and others with water rescue teams.
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .