Local raft guides work hard to keep rafters safe - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Local raft guides work hard to keep rafters safe

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POLK COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

Thousands of people travel out to the Ocoee River every year to ride on the class four rapids.

"There's a lot of people that raft here. We're getting close to a quarter million a year. That's a lot of traffic," said, Kip Gilliam, Ocoee River Outfitter Association President.

With so many people going down stream, Gilliam tells Channel 3 each guide has three things on their mind.

"Our main responsibility is to show everyone a nice, fun, safe time," said Gilliam.

However, Gilliam says with every wilderness experience there is some risk involved, which is why he says every raft guide is thoroughly trained to help minimize it.

"In house we do a lot of swift water rescue training. Everyone has to have CPR, first aid current," said Gilliam.

But that's not all, Gilliam says every guide is equip in case of any emergency.

"We have to carry Tennessee State Park approved raft kits and rescue ropes with us," said Gilliam.

But it's not always all about what's on the raft, the number of people able to respond is also a factor and Gilliam says there is power in numbers.

"We travel in groups with the rafts so if there is ever a problem we have people to assist," said Gilliam.

Long time kayaker Brian Swafford says everyone pitches in during a time of need.

"Anytime anyone is in trouble I think anyone out here would, whether kayaker or rafter, we're gonna do whatever we can to help out," said Swafford.

"We try to be as prepared for anything we can," said Gilliam. "Accidents do happen here, but when they do, they're very few and far between. We really try to minimize it."

Police tell us the raft guides in the two fatalities over the weekend did everything they could to rescue the victims.

We learned the last fatal commercial rafting trip on the Ocoee was in 2011 and before that, there hadn't been one since 1998.

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