Drowning machines: safety near dams - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Drowning machines: safety near dams

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Family and friends are mourning the loss of Andrea Zimmerman. The 29-year-old drowned this weekend while tubing with friends after she went over the Troy Mills dam on the Wapsipinicon River. 

Experts say the problem with dams is that you may not know you're in danger until it's too late. Once you're sucked in, it can be impossible to get out. They say before you head out on the water you should do some research.

"Those roller dams, they're called drowning machines for a reason," said Justin Jensen, Cedar Rapids Firefighter. "They're extremely hazardous. They're dangerous."

It's been almost five years since someone died at the roller dam in Cedar Rapids, one of seven deaths that have happened over time -- including two firefighters in the 1970s.

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, recirculating currents at the dams can trap and drown victims.

Our crew watched a piece of debris floating down river get sucked into the dam and never saw it resurface. That's why firefighters have to go through special training to do rescues there.

"We're trained as rescue swimmers wearing personal flotation devices, helmets, all our safety gear," said Jensen. "There is a way for us to get up to a low-head roller dam and perform a rescue on someone that's trapped inside."

They say the best thing to do is to stay away.

The Iowa DNR says you should get to know the water before you get on it. Make sure you boat with experienced people. Keep your eyes open for warning signs. And, always wear a life jacket.
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