Where firefighters are needed most during monsoon season

Where firefighters are needed most during monsoon season

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Barricades are ready around southern Arizona to keep drivers from dangers that could be waiting in floodwaters after a monsoon storm.

After checking with fire departments and districts around Pima County, Tucson News Now has learned that some specific areas require repeat responses for stranded drivers or swift water rescues.

Rural Metro Fire has two stations in the northern portion of the county and two in the southern. A breakdown of 911 calls shows that Tanque Verde and Houghton has the most responses with nine in the last three monsoon seasons.

Battalion Chief John Walka said those are mostly stranded drivers, but just south of there, near Speedway, is where firefighters tend to use more resources for swift water rescues. Much of the foothills and northeast side could experience flooding because of the nearby Rincon and Santa Catalina mountain ranges.

"That rainfall comes down, and it comes really fast," he said. "People just don't understand the power of water."

Construction work along Ajo Way in the Drexel Heights Fire District has not only shifted the traffic pattern, it's changed the flow of floodwaters. The road-widening project stretches from Kinney Road west to Valencia Road. It includes plans to improve drainage southwest of Tucson.

Drexel Heights Fire District spokeswoman Tracy Koslowski said ADOT has been great about meeting with first responders about the project, any changes it may cause to the area and what sort of timeline they should expect for completion.

However, last year was a busy time for rescue calls in the district, according to Koslowski.

"We knew that it was going to get bad before it got better, and that's the case," she said.

Last year, 10 calls between the intersection at Ajo and Camino Verde and nearby San Joaquin Road totaled twice as many as the year before. Koslowski said the construction will improve the area when it's complete, but it has kept firefighters on their toes until then.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed that this year is better, that those numbers go down," she said.

Crews from Northwest Fire have helped stranded motorists near the Ruthrauff I-10 underpass three times in the last three seasons, according to data provided by the district. A couple others have happened near Sandario Road between Avra Valley and Twin Peaks, but Captain Brian Keeley said nowhere in the district is a repeat area for swift water rescues.

Firefighters in Corona de Tucson typically respond to more than half a dozen stranded drivers / rescue calls since 2015, according to spokesman Captain Todd Cupell.

There is a little overlap with Green Valley Fire, according to spokesman LT Pratt. The department typically runs 3-4 calls each season near Sahuarita Road from Corona de Tucson south.

Cupell said most times, it is a matter of who arrives on scene first or whoever is closer and can easily access the stranded vehicle.

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