Fire officials see increase in drownings, distressed swimmer calls in Potomac River

Rescuers respond to a call for a distressed swimmer in the Potomac River. (COurtesy Pete Piringer)

An increase in drownings in the Potomac River has led local fire departments to remind swimmers that it is not only dangerous but illegal to swim in certain areas.

D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman Vito Maggiolo said with pools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, more people are going to the river for a swim. However, the department reports two drowning have happened recently.

“The river, although it appears to be calm, can be very treacherous, it’s very deceiving,” Maggiolo said.

One fisher and a swimmer went missing in the past several days. Maggiolo said a body was found on Saturday in the Potomac River, but the person’s identity has not been revealed.

“It’s very easy to slip on one of those wet rocks and fall in, and when you do, you can easily get pulled under,” Maggiolo said.

Pete Piringer, spokesman for Montgomery County’s Fire and Rescue Department, said they’ve responded to twice the number of calls for drownings and distressed swimmers than usual for this time of year.

“That’s a little unusual to have so many drownings in a relatively short period of time, but the simple answer is that swimming is prohibited, it’s illegal,” Piringer said

Officers have been out along the river, encouraging people to stay safe and avoid swimming in the area.

“We’re trying to educate people so that we wouldn’t have to come back and maybe rescue them,” Piringer said.

There could be an up to $200 fine for those caught swimming in the Potomac River, especially near Great Falls and the southern Maryland-D.C. line.

“Don’t put yourself in a position of danger,” Maggiolo said.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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