Spread across 23,000 acres, 10,000 of which is water, Lake Pleasant is an oasis of fun in the desert attracting boaters, campers, hikers, and adventure enthusiasts.
“More and more people are discovering Lake Pleasant and coming out to enjoy it,” said Robert Ciulla, with the Peoria Fire Department.
With such a large amount of land and opportunities for things to go wrong; calls out for help can help day or night.
“People sometimes forget about safety and that they’re in an environment that could be dangerous,” said Ciulla. “We have a wide variety of emergencies out here just because of the landscape of the lake and what’s around it…we respond to brush fires, boat fires, accidents on the highway ATV accidents, anything from snake bites, people hiking…overturned boats, people swimming in the water that need help.”
The four-man crew stationed at the lake goes out multiple times a month to run through many of these scenarios to prepare for the real thing.
“Out here it can be a matter of something serious happening…we try to get out here as much as possible,” said Ciulla.
The crew took ABC15 on one of their practice runs. The crews make the trek from the firehouse down to the marina, each bringing equipment necessary for any rescue situation.
While the process may look chaotic, it’s more like a synchronized dance for this team.
Climbing aboard their boat each member has a designated role; there’s the operator in charge of guiding the boat through the water, stabilizing the boat when fighting fires on the lake, and monitoring underwater for any potential dangers.
Then there’s the line tender who is also a safety office that makes sure the swimmer’s and patients get back on the boat safely and finally two swimmers: a primary and secondary swimmer who go out and rescue the patient.
The boat is specialized for their needs. It was purchased six years ago and acts as a fire truck, search and rescue unit, and emergency room all in one.
Ciulla has been with the team since the Rescue Swimmer Boat Operator Program started two years ago.
“I love it, I love the opportunity to be able to have an impact,” he said.
Looking back, he remembers the challenges the crew faced. The City of Peoria only made the firehouse near the marina full time about two years ago, and they didn’t even have a boat of their own for several years. It was purchased in 2012.
The crew also practices rescues during the night and have night vision goggles to use during those drills and practice driving at night.
The team's skills were put to the test a few weeks ago when two kayakers kayaking overturned on the water.
“They began to get separated; they weren’t very strong swimmers. Our crews got out, located them, and performed an active water rescue,” said Ciulla.
He says the kayakers didn’t have life jackets and in freezing waters, death was only minutes away. They were able to get to them so quickly because friends called for help and guided the crew to the victims.
Ciulla says that’s one of the biggest problems they face during emergencies tends to be people not knowing where they are on the water.
Which is why fire officials advise visitors to always know where they are going before heading out and try to remember landmarks nearby that crews can use to help them identify where you may be calling from.
Right now, the team has been told they will be getting a second boat to help them out more, but it’s not known when it will be available. In the meantime, they will continue practicing for that next emergency so that they are ready if you ever find yourself in danger and need their help.