Collected newspaper articles & postings to various web sites and chat rooms:
Ryan Snodgrass is 6'4, fit as a fiddle, a class 5 creeker (in the Southeast, mind you) and a top notch guide. I just caught wind of this, but would easily assume that he was the most qualified rescuer at the scene.
I have refrained from posting for the most part, but this is boatertalk and I'm from the southeast so I do feel some obligation to explain myself, at least to my own community of boaters. This is what happened on clear creek. I just finished a trip on the intermediate section. I was hanging around the outpost when my manager came running and told me that a boat had missed the beginner takeout, floated into the advanced section (which begins very shortly after the beginner takeout) and had flipped. He also told me that a 13 year old girl was missing. I immediately grabbed my gear and with all the guides available, jumped into a company van and our boss began driving toward the lower canyon. This is a serious section of whitewater, much more difficult that anything I have seen commercially run in the southeast.
After passing the beginner takeout, we came upon a group of road workers pointing to the river. We stopped and saw that it was a snagged rope. At this time another guide joined us with his own car. I jumped into his car and we continued down the canyon. Near a rapid called double knife, we came upon several emergency vehicles. I jumped out of the car and began running toward them. I came upon two rescuers in flippers, wetsuits, soap bar jackets, ect. I told them I worked for AVA and asked if the girl had been found. They said they didn't know and that I should just back off and let them handle things. I immediately jumped into a second company van that had made it to the scene and continued down the canyon.
Above double knife is a rapid called ejector, below double knife is hell's half mile, hell's corner, clamshell, deep hole, terminator 1 and terminator 2. At this level all the rapids are connected into approx 1 and 1/2 mile of class IV-V whitewater. I knew if she was still missing then current would be moving her downstream fast. We passed through the tunnel that bypasses a large bend in the river and as soon as we exited we heard what sounded like a girl screaming. We immediately pulled over and jumped out of the van, running toward the guardrail. The girl was on the opposite bank on a rocky area that was cliffed out, preventing her from walking downstream to the bridge.
At the same time that we came upon this scene, a couple of uninformed rescuers also saw her, as there were rescuers spread over a large area. Myself and several other guides ran to the shore. We set ropes downstream and myself, the assistant manager, and another guide sprinted upstream, scouting for potential crossings. As we were discussing where to go, another un-uniformed man in a life jacket began yelling at us not to become involved and clear the area, he was immediately disrespectful toward us and did not identify himself.
We left that area and went several hundred yards upstream below deep hell where we knew it would be easy to cross. We knew that although we could see she was no longer in the water, it was impossible for us to make an initial assessment without making contact. Shock, hypothermia, internal injuries, etc were a concern, in addition she did not know if her family had survived the swim. Another guide held safety rope where I was crossing with the additional guides downstream, below the girl, as safety. I made it to the opposite shore and the other guide threw the rope bag across to me. I did not feel I was putting myself in danger by crossing, it was a simple upstream jump from a rock at the bank, upstream swim ferry, into a well defined eddy. I found a goat trail to the girl and determined that she, miraculously, had not sustained any serious injuries. I began scouting areas to set up a possible rope pendulum. At this time I was ordered by a rescuer from the opposite bank, not to move the girl. He said he was in charge and that I should not move the girl. I said that I was swiftwater certified, and he repeated not to move the girl. At this point, I felt the girl was safe and I decided to stay with her until the rescuers made it across. This took 30 to 40 minutes. The rescue swimmers first set up to swim directly across from us, the current here made it an impossible task. I advised them not to cross there and they then crossed upstream, I'm assuming the same spot as myself. I couldn't tell because of the bend. They reached her and did a second initial assessment. At this point I withdrew to the background and let them continue the rescue, I also advised them that there was an undercut wall downstream and any rescue that they were going to attempt should consider that a factor.
About 40 to 50 minutes later, the girl was brought across the river by an elaborate system of ropes that allowed the rescuers to ferry a boat across the river and back by being pulled with ropes extending the entire width of the river. I then was "rescued" in the same technique and was cuffed upon stepping on the shore. They walked me to the car after allowing me to remove some gear. I was driven to the Georgetown jail where I sat wet for several hours before my brother came to bail me out.
This is my 10th season guiding, I've worked around the southeast and Colorado. I have been kayaking since I was 14. I am swiftwater rescue certified, trip leader, training manager, safety kayaker, and CPR/first aid certified.
Thanks for all you guys backing me up,
Sec. 17-140. Disobeying a police officer or firefighter.
It is unlawful for any person to willfully disobey the lawful or reasonable order or direction of any police officer, firefighter, emergency personnel or military personnel given incident to the discharge of the official duties of such police officer or firefighter, or incident to the duties of emergency personnel or military personnel when coping with an emergency, explosion or other disaster within his or her official concern. (Ord. 8 §1, 2006)
Just a quick update. Once again, thanks so much to everyone who has supported us. We have gotten so many emails and calls about this.
A couple things: Not that it really matters, but Ryan's boat was not the one that missed the takeout or flipped. He was assisting in the situation. Also, Ryan is a 10-year raft guide and 16-year kayaker and is our training manager at our Idaho Springs/Clear Creek Outpost.
The sheriff finally called this afternoon and agreed to meet with everyone involved. This is all we have been asking for. The hope, of course, is to have the charges dropped, but also to dissect the events and improve communication between parties so that we do not face a situation like this again.
We will keep you posted on whether charges get dropped!
You can see more discussion of this and some clarification of details on our facebook page at Colorado Rafting - Arkansas Valley Adventures (AVA) | Facebook
1. Freelancing at rescues can lead to some SERIOUS problems. Your first goal is to make no more patients. If one hand doesn't know what the other is doing, you can very quickly end in delays at best and disaster at worse.
2. The guide was out of line, but NOT in an arrestable sort of way.
3. Rescuers are used to bystanders getting in the way. Usually, they are well meaning but unqualified good Samaritans. Sometimes they are really qualified people and the rescuers use their help. However, the assumption is the former until proven otherwise. "All doctors at the scene of a car wreck are proctologists until proven otherwise."
4. I think things could have gone differently if the guide had calmed down and talked to someone with authority instead of getting butthurt from the instinctual reaction of some rescuer underling who didn't know who the heck he was. If instead of trying to conduct his own competing rescue, had he gone directly to those with jurisdiction and said "these are our expertise, experience, capabilities, and plan. Can we execute in support?" then he might have been told "sweet! Do it!" We'll never know.
THE BIGGEST PROBLEM:
Here is what bothers me most: AVA putting 13 year old girls from TX in rafts piloted by guides who can't make the Kermit's takeout with the clear creek at peak flow which means going from a III run they signed up for into a long IV+/V- stretch, then dumping the clients in the drink and then losing contact with them for 30-45 minutes.
Now the DA will have a hard time dropping the case because the national press and local press has been calling out the local personnel. To quote one national anchor "around here, we call that guide a hero". What a cluster from start to finish. I wish calmer heads could prevail. Now would be a good time for AVA's ownership to call the DA and say what about a trip for your rescue personnel and the local boys and girls club. Lets make lemons out of lemonade and put this behind us.
This year, as always, there are many accounts of paddlers being rescued by professional first responders. Most of these “rescues” offer the kinds of help that skilled whitewater paddlers do for one another every day. For inexperienced paddlers it can make a difference between life and death. There was also a widely reported clash between professional guides and members of a Colorado swiftwater rescue team. Both groups were trying to locate a missing rafting guest on Clear Creek who washed past the takeout into Class V rapids. There was no cooperation and a whole lot of screaming at the scene by both groups. When the dust settled the local Sheriff’s department, in a controversial action, arrested two of the guides. I plan to write about this incident, and the ongoing challenge of EMS - paddler interactions, in the very near future.
Raft guide arrested after helping stranded rafter on Clear Creek
By Jason Blevins
The Denver Post
POSTED: 06/11/2010 01:12:57 PM MDT
Clear Creek sheriff's deputies on Thursday arrested a rafting guide for swimming to a stranded young rafter who had tumbled from his boat on Clear Creek.
Ryan Daniel Snodgrass, a 28-year-old guide with Arkansas Valley Adventures rafting company, was charged with "obstructing government operations," said Clear Creek Sheriff Don Krueger.
"He was told not to go in the water, and he jumped in and swam over to the victim and jeopardized the rescue operation," said Krueger, noting that his office was deciding whether to file similar charges against another guide who was at the scene just downstream of Kermitt’s Roadhouse on U.S. 6.
Duke Bradford, owner of Arkansas Valley Adventures, said Snodgrass did the right thing by contacting the 13-year-old Texas girl immediately and not waiting for the county's search and rescue team to assemble ropes, rafts and rescuers.
"When you have someone in sight who has taken a long swim, you need to make contact immediately," said Bradford, a 15-year rafting guide and ski patroller from Summit County. "This is just silly. Ryan Snodgrass acted entirely appropriately. These guys came to the scene late and there was a rescue in progress. They came in and took over an existing rescue. To leave a patient on the side of a river while you get your gear out of the car and set up a rescue system you read about in a book is simply not good policy."
Snodgrass' raft flipped on the runoff-swelled Clear Creek around noon Thursday and the girl swam from the raft. Krueger said the girl was missing for 30 to 45 minutes while Snodgrass searched for her. He said she swam a half mile from the spot where the raft capsized.
Since it had been so long, Krueger said, it was no longer the rafting company's rescue.
"They should involve themselves up to a point. They lost contact. Whether they want to say they were trying to rescue their customer, when they had lost visual contact and had no idea where their customer has been for 30 to 45 minutes, then it becomes our issue."
Bradford said he would expect his guides to do the same thing again. His guides are professionals, he said, trained and certified in swiftwater rescue.
"To jump into water and navigate a river in a swiftwater rescue is common. You get into the river and swim. You have to do it," Branford said. "The fact these guys don't understand that is disturbing. Making contact immediately with your victim is essential. It's not about who is in charge. It's about the safety of a 13-year-old girl. You are going to do everything in your power to insure the safety of your guest, and if that means in Idaho Springs you get arrested, well I guess we'll just get arrested."
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374 email@example.com
This is a pride thing for the "search and rescue team" who train and train for moments like this, only to see their glory stolen from them by a person who was in a better position to rescue than they were. I am so sorry for the S and R team, they got all dressed up for nothing, oh wait...they should be happy that the girl is ok because we are all on the same team when it comes to saving a life. Just cause you did not get to use your expensive gear does not mean a man should get charges. He was qualified and the rescue team said "they should involve themselves" but an arbitrary time limit? Oops, I found the girl, but the time limit passed 30 seconds ago, so I need to sit and watch her in duress while the team gets ready. Quit crying about a good thing and get over your hero complex S and R team.
In my town a police officer went out with a private boat owner and helped a drowing boy before the rescue team even had their boat in the water. I guess he should have waited for the professionals and not used common sense, quick thinking and "untrained" citizens boat to save a life. If our team wanted to have a pissing contest then the officer would have been in trouble for doing something he was not "trained" to do, this rescuer was trained.
DENVER AND THE WEST
Rafting guides accused of interfering with rescue won't be charged
By Jason Blevins
The Denver Post
POSTED: 07/14/2010 01:00:00 AM MDT
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert will not prosecute two rafting guides accused of interfering with the rescue of a 13-year-old girl on Clear Creek last month.Clear Creek County sheriff's deputies arrested guides Ryan Snodgrass, 28, and Justin Lariscy, 30, on charges of interfering with a government operation after the pair initiated a rescue for a Texas girl who fell from their company's raft June 10 on Clear Creek.
Snodgrass swam to the girl, who had traveled a half-mile through swollen rapids and pulled herself to shore.Sheriff's officials said the pair ignored orders to stay out of the water and let volunteer search-and-rescue workers handle the matter.
Lariscy, in a letter describing the events of the day, said the pair saw "no plan of action or organization of the volunteers." Hurlbert said Snodgrass and Lariscy wrote "very good letters of apology" to the sheriff, prompting his decision. "Once we let cooler heads prevail, both the sheriff and the raft guides and the rafting company, they realized things could have gone differently and charging a person was not going to be the correct solution," said Hurlbert, district attorney for Colorado's 5th Judicial District.
Since the incident, the sheriff and the guides' company, Arkansas Valley Adventures, have been working on a procedure that would keep everyone involved safe, Hurlbert said. "My hope is that Search and Rescue and the rafting company will work together," Hurlbert said. "Ultimately, the safety of the person in the water is the No. 1 thing."
Arkansas Valley Adventures owner Duke Bradford said he was relieved that his employees would not face criminal charges.
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374 firstname.lastname@example.org
Ryan Snodgrass you deserve an award...not a court date. Kudos to you. I would consider Ryan a hero and an expert at what he does. I would much rather been saved sooner than later with the way waters can surge around here.
Clear Creek County and Search and Resuce...get over yourself and your fancy ropes. Go run DUI check points, remove dead animals from the highway or crack down on meth production in your county.
Not to rain on anybody's parade here - but I have to agree that he deserved to be arrested! Consider: "the girl was on the side of the river" therefore not in immediate danger. If she was in the water drowning, different story. What did he expect to do after swimming over there? Swim back with her? That is clearly endangering both himself and the victim. I don't care how great a swimmer you are, crossing a swollen river like that, then trying to get back with a victim - WRONG. The first rule of rescue is "safe scene" - this was clearly not. He was putting himself and the original victim at great risk instead of calmly waiting for help that was on the way. Verdict: guilty as charged.
by Funny on June 11th, 2010, 2:12 pm
ShoutBits wrote:Sounds like the real crime here was embarrassing the Government.
Agreed. While the approved "rescuers" were getting prepared, someone with hundreds if not thousands of hours of experience, rescued the victim. What’s wrong with that?
It is sending the message that people shouldn't help people. When I come to a crash scene should I help the victim by giving first aid, or should I wait for the professionals to get there and get their gear together.... I think I'll help even if they do arrest me afterwords.
Article Discussion: Raft guide arrested after helping stranded rafter
What a joke! Horrible decisions by the cops and formal rescue team! Who can sit and watch their rafter stranded while these "rescuers" take their time getting all ready to get in the water!
When will FDs learn that they are the ones generally grossly incompetent in SWR? Somehow they take one three day class every year, buy a shit ton of insanely expensive, underutilized tools and then assume they are the experts. They are the experts at extremely difficult body extractions after people have drown. I'd take my kayaking buddies in any life/death situation, any time, any place and probably 80% of raft guides too. We operate in this environment 100 days/year and have actually seen shit go down and saves happen.
Sorry I had to vent, but I'm really sick of dealing with these FD/S&R chumps that have more toys than experience. The only ones worth their salt are the occasional volunteer organizations that tend to operate on a shoestring budget. The volunteers generally seem to actually have experience or know they are outclassed and get out of the way.
Not being there on site, we do not know exactly what went down and was said. I did read the news article and base my opinions on that. I have decades of WW boating trips, used to be a ACA Swiftwater Instructor and for a few years was a volunteer fireman. I do not consider myself an expert, but do understand the stress a rescue situation puts people under.
If I was the young ladies Dad and someone showed up on the opposite bank to comfort and help my kid -- I would be extremely thankful for that person no matter how he got there.
Many of us WW boaters have had experiences where the professional fire departments were basically a holes when it comes to help from WW boaters in rescue situations. They do have way too many toys these days and some times do not show common sense. In my opinion the Incident Commander did more harm than good for future rescue's by putting the guide in handcuffs. Every river guide I have ever known took it personal when it came to taking care of their guests. Same for private boaters helping out anyone who needed help.
I know during my days as a volunteer fireman we got trained on the entire gear list whereas the "local professional departments" did not. That gave us a edge when we were on duty.
I do not want to take away from the professional fire and police departments at all. They have a difficult job and are appreciated for what they do. I do think they shoot themselves in the foot when they put river guides in hand cuffs after they do what this young man did. I do not know him but think he was perfectly comfortable swimming across the creek and in fact showed a lot of skill by picking a good spot to swim. I bet that young lady was glad to see him next to her no matter how he got there.
Maybe the local fire department needs to take a leadership seminar and learn to cool it. There may well be a future situation where one of the local guides or even private boaters can provide help but decide to stay out of it due to fear of a set of handcuffs.
A public apology from the incident commander and police would go a long way to making this unnecessary arrest a thing of the past.
Re: Raft Guide Arrested for Rescue CCW
There may not be "more to the story". This is not the first time a paddler has
been arrested after making a routine rescue and it won't be the last. I have
dozens of these incidents in my files. Rescues that skilled whitewater paddlers
make routinely are often viewed as dangerous by first responders, who don't have the experience ("time in the water")to use the simple techniques that paddlers use. One thing leads to another, and an arrest is made.
Those boatertalk posts are worth reading.
Re: Raft Guide Arrested for Rescue
Ben's statement is pretty accurate. When I teach swiftwater rescue I try to
explain these dynamics to my students.
I've had experience with two rescue squads locally. One worked very closely with
paddlers after a kayaker drowned in a very dangerous place. The other blocked
access roads and tried to run off professional guides who came to help after a
canoeist drowned in a very isolated area. After the guides and two expert
kayakers recovered the body and brought it out they were pushed aside at the
takeout. The rescue squad told the press it was all their doing.
One local group has a list of skilled boaters who could be called for hasty
searches and other support. It hasn't been used yet, so we don't know if it
Re: Raft Guide Arrested for Rescue
Rivers with a strong outfitter presence (like the Nantahala and New Rivers)
often see rescue squads work well with professional outfitters. Typically the
outfitters bring the victim to shore, then the first responders take over. On
other guided rivers conflicts remain. On the Shenandoah River some raft rental
and tubing clients take cell phones with them in a waterproof case. If they get
stranded on a rock they call 911. Sometimes passing drivers see the same thing
and make the call. Outfitters trying to help their clients may encounter
emergency responders who want to "take over" the scene and keep them away. The
river is the boundary between two states and four counties which adds to the
confusion. Often rescues which could be easily made by a skilled boatman turn
into three ring circuses with multiple squads responding and lots of rope in the
water. Much time and money could be saved by developing a more cooperative
Firefighters are almost always better trained to handle emergencies than the
average person. After all, no one runs into burning buildings or pulls people
out of wrecked cars for fun. Swiftwater rescue is a different story. It's the
bastard stepchild of the EMS system because emergencies requiring these skills
don't happen very often and the resources that can be devoted to swiftwater
rescue training are also limited. A class IV paddler or trip leader for a
rafting company is often on the water 100+ plus days per season for several
years. In contrast, swiftwater-trained rescue personnel typically have less time
on moving water than an intermediate kayaker or early-season rookie raft guide.
There's also a big difference in the way these two groups respond to the problem
of a person stranded by fast moving water. Fire rescue personnel, with their
extensive training in rope handling and teamwork, typically set up shore based
rope systems. Whitewater paddlers, who deal with these situations all the time,
are likely to use their in water skills paddle or swim to the victim and use
nothing more complicated than a throw bag or boat to get them ashore.
To whitewater paddlers, the complex systems used by EMS seem painfully slow and clumsy. To professional rescuers, the in-water skills of paddlers appear
unnecessarily dangerous. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages, depending on the situation. Each group should recognize that the other has a lot to offer, and this helps us work together respectfully.
I my swiftwater rescue classes I tell students that they will often encounter
rescues in progress. They're told to defer to the people who are already there
regardless of whether the technique being used is the one they think is best.
They can seek out the leadership, offer to help or move on. The exception is
when a human life hangs in the balance. Then its worth braving the inevitable
conflict to intervene more forcefully.
Re: Raft Guide Arrested for Rescue
There is no question that firefighters or rescue squads are in charge when they
arrive and have the authority to control the scene and arrest those who fail to
comply. But leadership is more than exercising the brute force of law. I have
many incidents in my files where the failure of those in charge to accept offers
of help from knowledgeable people resulted in unnecessary tragedies. Here's one example:
Slippery Rock Creek in Western Pennsylvania, was the scene of a tragic triple
fatality on April 8, 2001. Neil Balcer, 23, met his death while kayaking the
Class II lower stretch of Slippery Rock below Eckart Bridge. Balcer, a novice
paddler, spotted a downed tree just above the Harris Bridge takeout. He flipped
while taking evasive action and made several roll attempts before washing into
the strainer. He was solidly pinned about 20 feet from shore. His PFD and helmet
washed off and were recovered in an eddy below. Boaters in the vicinity rushed
to the scene, but there was nothing they could do.
When firefighters arrived, paddlers told them that Balcer had been underwater
for 45 minutes and was clearly dead. They suggested that they use a chain saw to
cut the downed tree loose from shore while the paddlers waited downstream to
recover the body. But the Dive Team told them to clear out and let the experts
handle it. They had two men approach the strainer from upstream. Lines from
shore were tied to static harnesses (with no quick release), a procedure which
has resulted in many firefighter deaths nationwide. In addition, the two men
were connected by an additional line which created a serious snag hazard.
Minutes later something went terribly wrong. It's not clear if the pair lost
their footing or something became snagged, but the ropes pulled Anthony Murdick
25, and Scott Wilson, 25, under water. Both men, married with young children,
were killed. A few minutes later the ropes were ordered cut, but by then it was
too late. The pair were dead when they washed ashore below Harris Bridge.
The next day firefighters cut the downed tree at the shoreline, allowing Balcer
and his kayak to wash free. Rescue officials told local newspapers was that this
was all the kayaker's fault. Weeks later, sadly, an offer to organize a
whitewater rescue symposium in memory of the two dead firefighters was turned
Re: Raft Guide Arrested for Rescue
Having talked with both the sheriff and the raft company owner I can tell you
this situation is very confusing. None of the stories match up. 911 was probably
called by a passing motorist, and not anyone connected with the rafting company.
The guides were in full search and rescue mode when they encountered EMS
volunteers, also in full rescue mode, who were not in uniform. After the guides
spotted the girl their plan was to get a swimmer across, then a rope, then a
boat that would be pulled over and back by the rope. It would have taken 1/5th
the time needed by the rescue that was performed by EMS.
Both sides were very fired up. Profanity and insults turned to threats and
physical intimidation. The arrest of the guide, bad enough in the outfitter's
eyes, was covered by two TV networks in Denver. The next day the Sheriff came to
the outfitter's base and arrested a second guide. Serious charges are pending.
Feelings are very strong on both sides and it will probably take lawyers to
untangle the mess. While both the outfitter and the sheriff say they want to
work together this event is a huge hurdle to cooperation. Neither group seems to
trust the other. We can only hope that cooler heads will prevail eventually.
Re: Raft Guide Arrested for Rescue
I can't figure why rescue agencies and WW boaters are not able to work together
more effectively. Agencies complain of being chronically lacking in SWR resources, yet they fail to reach out to the one group that can provide them with much of the expertise
and support they lack.
In areas with lots of whitewater boating activity (both commerical and
non-commercial), why not put together a volunteer rescue team of class V creek
boaters (think of a concept equivalent to the old Yosemite climbing rescue
team). Or why not recruit some top paddlers to local SAR organizations? Why not
at least do some training together? There is huge potential to capitalize on an
immense of amount of expertise in local paddling communities around the country.
Even the best equipped and best trained agency will never come close to matching
the skill and expertise of top creek boaters. It seems insane not to work
Re: Raft Guide Arrested for Rescue
Having had feet in both camps I can say that its not just the Rescue Squads that don't always get it. Having people assist with a rescue has become a liability problem for many Fire depts. in this age of the law suit. If a guide assists the local fire dept with a rescue but is injured or killed in the process the fire dept is opened up to legal actions. These days fire depts. are very careful not to expose themselves to liability. once someone calls 911 it legally becomes the Fire depts responsibility. ( the degree to which this applies varies by the state's laws)
If guides want to assist the local fire dept once they respond they should seek out the incident commander and offer their assistance. Better yet join the local fire dept. If a outfitter wants to provide guides to assist in rescues and are willing to cover the liability and workman’s comp of their employees during the rescue then perhaps entering into an MOU with the local fire dept before hand to do so we make everyone more comfortable with the situation. The key is to make contact before the rescue event occurs. as Charley
said places with a strong Outfitter presence this is less of a problem as things have been worked out in advance either by experience of the years or by prearrangement.
Re: Raft Guide Arrested for Rescue
I agree that legal authority and leadership are two different things, but in the case study you presented, the Incident Commander did indeed demonstrate leadership. The problem wasn't a lack of leadership, it was a lack of understanding what the real problem and what the best strategy for the recovery were.
The paddlers bear no responsibility for either the original paddler's death, nor the subsequent death of the FD divers. The responsibility for the FD divers' deaths rests squarely on the Incident Commander.
The authority and power that come with the temporary title "Incident Commander" can be very intoxicating. Unfortunately, infallibility isn't conferred with the title nor with the command vest. Another thing that folks in the Incident Command role sometimes fail to realize is that their responsibility and legal liability are equal with their power and authority, whether they realize it or not, and whether they like it or not.
A national credentialing system and joint pre-incident training may very well have gotten the paddlers more consideration from the Incident Commander in the Slippery Rock Creek case. Sadly, that was not the case. However, incidents of this type are becoming increasingly rare. Virtually all of the recent professional rescuer fatalities in fast-moving water have been in floodwater, not in recreational whitewater. In most of these cases, the civilian victims were not paddlers, nor were there any recreational paddlers on scene.
In one of the cases I'm thinking about, rangers in a motorized boat made the civilian rescue after a SWR tech/diver died in a previous rescue attempt, and in another, a SWR-trained paramedic drowned in a hydraulic while trying to rescue a child who was likely already dead.
After a high-profile incident like the raft guide being arrested, there is a tendency to try to define the usual incident by the extremes. We need to consider the extremes, but we shouldn't base the 90th percentile response on a case where either two divers drowned or on a case where a raft guide was arrested. Both are extremes, and both are - fortunately - very, very rare.
This incident has sparked a lot of discussion on the SwiftH20-News as well.
One recommendation is for leaders in the paddling community to do some pre-planning with your fire-rescue, law enforcement counterparts in advance of the season. Not all emergency responders have the needed swiftwater rescue training, but many do.
When water is cold, as you know, time is of the essence in terms of extracting and treating victims. This needs to also be communicated to local officials in clear terms.
And in major events, like the flash flood in Arkansas, additional swiftwater rescue trained resources may be needed - paddlers could provide much needed assistance, but this needs to be sorted out in advance and you would have to work through incident command.
Just my thoughts on this.
SwiftH2O-News : Swiftwater/flood rescue information
Swiftwater Rescue News
When its all said and done, he will pay a small fine for one of the charges, the rest will be dropped as part of the deal, and everyone will just be happy to have it done with. thats just how these things work. not how they should, but how they usually do.
i am a paid professional paramedic, and a former river guide. i have been involved in sar since 1995. i have been on all sides of situations like this before. what you have to remember is that part of our job is to come and put order to chaos. we constantly have well meaning idiots getting in the way, sometimes in very dangerous ways. its not always easy to tell an expert in street clothes from a wannabe Ricky Rescue that is 2 minutes away from making a small situation a major incident. and when it all turns to shit WE are the ones who take all the heat. it can't help but make us a little too controlling at times. nature of the beast.
mistakes were made on both sides-before, during, and after the incident.
from what i have read, everyone got off pretty lucky with this and they should keep reminding themselves of this fact. if this incident can be turned into a positive by forcing open the lines of communication between the boating community and the guys with radios and a duty to act, well, all the better.
everyone is pretty heated right now (i was super pissed when i first read about this). don't let that get in the way of working together to make the river a safer place. some very positive things are still possible from this, if both sides can keep their ego's in line.
not taking any sides here, just my 2 cents
its all about preplanning. a relationship needs to be formed before the next call out. when i used to teach 1st aid to the companies, part of the course was about how to interact w/other responders..... what to expect out of them, what they will likely expect from you.
there will always be egos coming in contact. a proactive approach is the only approach that will make the next time any different. keep up the macho bs and next time either a guide will do something too quickly in an effort to beat the FD, or the FD will show up and automatically stop any effort already under way, no questions asked. all because nobody trusts the other side. doesn't sound like a result anyone would be happy with. certainly not the customers.
we are all trying to accomplish the same goal, and the customer just wants to be off of the water. they don't really care who gets it done.
there isn't even really a question about who is better at "right now" rescues. private & commercial guides are all over it, every day of the week. but if i arrive (as a 911 responder) i have no idea who you are. why should i trust you with my life & the life of the patient? there needs to be a relationship already in place.A Rescuer Arrested – How It Happened and What We Can Learn.
Experienced whitewater paddlers know how to deal with anyth
I read the draft you sent me and here are some thoughts I have about it. I noticed a few of the following inaccuracies. I'm not sure that these necessarily change the message that you are trying to convey, but here they are. The raft which capsized was originally on the beginner section, not the intermediate. There were actually 2 girls involved, a 9 year old and a 13 year old. The 13 year old was the one I swam to, the 9 year old was rescued by 2 other guides downstream. Her situation was much more severe, but less publicized because the only witnesses were the 2 guides. Also, when I crossed the river, it was upstream of the girl, there were guides posted where I crossed, as well as downstream.
I would also like to give you my opinion on some of your theories as to why this situation played out how it did. I personally believe that rescue agencies such as those present at the rescue that day are very important. I have always felt this way. I would by lying if I told you I had never made fun of the firefighters practicing swiftwater rescue in full gear above the middle ocoee put-in; but this was just in fun, and I truly do understand their usefulness. My past experience with government rescuers on whitewater has been one of mutual cooperation. Rangers at the Ocoee or Gauley would never turn down the aid of an experienced guide. So, when I first came on the initial scene where most of the family had come to shore, announced who I was and that I was there to assist, and was told to back off, I was absolutely appalled. It is my understanding that the rescuers involved that day were a conglomeration of several departments from multiple counties. This section of clear creek lies near the border of 3 counties. I believe that the clear creek rescue team is highly qualified, I have seen them in action and I have also heard stories of amazingly ingenious systems. However, during this particular rescue, many things happened that I still believe are unacceptable.
First, I told rescue swimmers who I was and they ignored me. They had radios and did not even make an attempt to inform the incident commander that we were on the scene. We were a group of about 8 guides, in a company van, and in full gear with equipment, who had announced their presence. I find it hard to believe that anyone with experience on the water would not immediately recognize who we were. As we were being pushed from our initial position across from Victoria, I even heard the man who was later identified to me as the fire chief cussing about how guides are so cocky.
Second, the head boatman of our outpost was stopped by a single cop road block as he attempted to race downstream in order to reach a downstream spot from which to search moving upstream. He was not permitted to proceed further downstream. As this was happening an AVA paddle floats past them. The head boatman tries to explain that if a paddle could have made it to that point, a person could too and we needed someone downstream. The cop did not allow this. No attempt to communicate with IC that a trained individual wants to proceed further downstream, no one downstream.
Third, another guide in a separate vehicle parked on a pull-off downstream from where Victoria was found in order to search. A cop told him to move his vehicle. He explained who he was and why he was there. The cop decided it was better for him to leave the rescue in order to move his car. I could see the argument being made that the area needed to be clear for rescue vehicles; however this was not the case. The cop was clearing the road because it was closed and in the process delaying a valuable resource in the rescue.
Fourth, the rescue swimmers showed little knowledge of the dynamics of clear creek at high water. There may have been rescue swimmers spread out in other locations but the bulk of the ones I saw were congregated near where the other passengers had made it to shore. I find this unacceptable because given how long the girl had been missing and the velocity of the water, these swimmers should have been moving downstream at a time when every second counts. I feel that I have a working understanding of what these rescue teams are capable of; but, they showed me that they had no understanding of our capabilities. I and the other guides know every ripple of that creek and could have instantly given them valuable information. Instead, we were turned away.
Fifth, at the very scene of Victoria's rescue, AVA guides, trained in swift-water rescue, holding rope in strategic positions along the shore, were told to leave and that they would be arrested if they threw a rope. A guide attempted to clarify, asking the officer if the girl fell in the water and he threw his rope would he be arrested? The cop answered yes. His position was taken by an older gentlemen with his arm in a cast who made no attempt at finding anchor.
I do not feel that although the girl was in sight and "seemed" ok, that a true initial assessment should be foregone. I felt that Victoria needed, beyond anything else at that time, someone with her both for medical and emotional reasons. I felt that waiting another 40 minutes for a rescue swimmer to reach the girl was grossly negligent when a qualified team was waiting to cross. I felt a moral obligation to do what I thought needed to be done. I ask this: if we had found Victoria free-floating and not on the shore who would it have fallen upon to save her before the rescue swimmers arrived? In all adventure sports safety is of key importance, climbers use multiple anchors just in case. So why does it not make sense for me to take the appropriate measures to ensure Victoria's safety? Especially since it was nothing short of sheer luck that she was not seriously injured. Charlie, I know you're a seasoned paddler and you can appreciate the state I was in. I have been lucky in my career never to have been involved in a fatality. But on that day I really believed that that 13 year old girl was going to be the first one. I felt extreme urgency and I did not get that feeling from the rescue swimmers that I encountered before the girl was found. I understand that the rescuers had a legal authority there, but I felt morally obligated to take what I felt to be a necessary step in the rescue. I still feel this way.
The reason I am writing all this is to try to explain that although your argument makes sense and there are often misconceptions on both sides, it was not the determining factor for me. Egos do often get in the way, but I would have never expected to be in conflict with a rescue team. You are right, we do have different philosophies, both of which work very well when applied to the appropriate situation. It is not always the best idea to go in with guns blazing. Sometimes speed is the key, sometimes a more calculated effort is best. i still find it very discomforting that a professional rescue agency that is trained in swift-water, specifically clear creek, would not recognize that it was as easy for me to cross that river as to cross the road, allowing the girl to wait alone, without being assessed, on the opposite bank for 40 minutes until less-qualified swimmers could arrive. So I believe my actions were not necessarily guided by some deep-seated disdain for rescuers, but more triggered by the specifics of the event that was unfolding before me. I would have to say that I felt some embarrassment over the fact that attention was being drawn to a conflict between rescuers and guides and I found myself publicly associated with it.
I think everything about this situation shows a lack of communication, and maybe apathy on both sides. I know that I never made an attempt to create a personal relationship with these rescuers, even knowing that I may one day rely on them. Idaho Springs is a small town, after all. I think you have nailed the solution on the head, mutual respect and cooperation.
3-Year-Old Girl Falls Into Clear Creek From Raft
Girl Found Alive Downstream; Rafting Guide Handcuffed
Posted by Wayne Harrison, Web Editor
POSTED: 12:37 pm MDT June 10, 2010
CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colo. -- A 13-year-old Texas girl who fell into the raging waters of Clear Creek was rescued Thursday after the raft she and her family were on capsized in the Class IV rapids. Authorities said Victoria Hernandez was not seriously injured but ended up on the opposite bank of the creek and rescuers had to use an inflatable raft and ropes to get her to safety. Golden Fire received the first call for help at 12:14 p.m. and learned the raft overturned upstream in Clear Creek County.
Her father, Daniel Hernandez of El Paso, said the family had signed up for a novice rafting trip. But their adventure became an ordeal when they missed their take-out point and kept flowing into Clear Creak's treacherous lower canyon. Arkansas Valley Adventures' website states that steeply dropping stretch of the creek is an "advanced" trip "for serious paddlers only." The stretch includes Class IV rapids -- and one Class V -- with names like "Hell's Corner," "Ejector" and "Terminator." Daniel Hernandez said the raft hit a rock in the water and flipped, sending all seven people on the raft into the water. Everyone on the raft got out on the same side of the creek except for the 13-year-old girl. Rescuers found her on the opposite creek bank downstream from the accident, still in Clear Creek County. The girl was wearing a black wetsuit, a yellow life vest and blue helmet when she fell into the river.
The girl's father watched his daughter on the other side of the creek for 90 minutes during the rescue operation. When asked what he was thinking during that time, Hernandez replied, "The worst. The worst that can happen. You know, I'm a combat veteran -- three tours, just returned. And now we're on vacation. To have this occur, if I was to lose a daughter ... it would have been devastating." Victoria Hernandez was taken to a local hospital as a precaution. Her father said she had bumps and bruises.
7NEWS reporter Tyler Lopez said the rafting guide was arrested for failure to obey and interference after rescuers said he ignored their directions and was in danger of becoming a victim himself. He was handcuffed, according to Lopez. U.S. Highway 6 was closed between U.S. Highway 40 and State Highway 119, during rescue operations. Arkansas Valley Adventures, which was running the trip, refused comment on the incident and directed calls to the Colorado River Outfitters Association.
A Rescuer Arrested - How it happened and What We Can Learn.
Although experienced whitewater paddlers prepare to deal with anything from a routine swims to a life-threatening pins, very few are ready to work with Emergency Responders. When police, fire, and rescue personnel arrive, the situation changes. They are, to use a legal phrase, the "designated state authority". This means that they can take over a situation and arrest anyone who disobeys their lawful orders. First responders are almost always better trained to handle emergencies than the average person. After all, no one runs into burning buildings or pulls people out of wrecked cars unless they know what they're doing. Swiftwater rescue is a different story. An expert whitewater paddler has more in-water skill than most topnotch SAR professionals. They want to help, and this can lead to trouble.
Clear Creek, which runs along on I-70 and US 6 in Colorado's Front Range, contains runs ranging in difficulty from Class II to V. It's a popular after work run for many Denver area boaters, but it's not without risk. Six paddlers have died here in the last 20 years. This past summer two raft guides were arrested while trying to rescue one of their guests. It's a story containing many useful lessons for paddlers, outfitters, and first responders.
It was a very high water day on June 10th when an Arkansas Valley Adventures raft missed an eddy at the end of their intermediate trip, floated into the advanced section just downstream, and flipped. Everyone, including a 9 year old girl, ended up in the river. All but the little girl got ashore quickly; she washed downstream into miles of serious Class IV-V rapids. Ryan Snodgrass is a ten year veteran guide and Class V kayaker certified in swiftwater rescue and first aid who serves as trip leader, guide trainer, and safety kayaker for the company. He had just finished a trip on the intermediate section when his manager told him what happened. Grabbing gear, he and several other guides began a wild drive downriver. Just below a tunnel they stopped. They heard a girl screaming. They ran to the guard rail and spotted the girl on the far shore. Her back was against a cliff, so she couldn't move up or downstream.
Someone, probably a passing motorist, saw what happened and dialed 911. The Clear Creek County Sheriff's Dive Rescue Team was called out. Many squads only deal with fast moving water every 4-6 years and their training is spotty at best. This team was different. Set up in 1984 and trained by Dive Rescue Specialists and Rescue III. they are in the river year-round managing auto wrecks and missing persons as well as swimming and boating accidents. They have a strong reputation in Colorado and are often called to assist with searches and recoveries elsewhere.
So two teams, both highly trained and confident, converged on the scene. Both felt that it was their responsibility to perform the rescue. The adrenaline was flowing and everyone was keyed up. Even under ideal conditions it's not easy for two groups that don't know each other to team up for perform a rescue. This meeting was more like a collision. Several Dive Team members wearing civilian clothes warned the guides not to intervene. There was shouting, cursing, and shoving.
Several guides focused on getting to the girl and checking her for injuries. They went downstream to calm stretch and set up safety so Mr. Snodgrass could swim across the river. He described his swim as "a simple jump from a rock at the bank and a swim ferry into a well defined eddy." He moved quickly upstream to the girl and checked her for injuries. Miraculously, she was unhurt. Then Mr. Snodgrass began scouting for a place where he could catch a throwbag and pendulum her to the near shore. Suddenly a uniformed rescuer said he was in charge ordered him not to move the girl. He stayed with her until a CCDT rescue swimmer, after several attempts, made it across the river. He stepped back as they checked her for injuries and set up a system to ferry a boat over and get her across the creek. This took about 40 minutes, then Mr. Snodgrass was ordered to cross the river in the same system. After doing what he was told he was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail. A second guide, Justin Lariscy, was also arrested. They were both charged with "Obstructing a Rescue" and "Obstructing a Government Operation".
Why the conflict between very competent groups? To begin with, there's a big difference in training and philosophy between whitewater paddlers and emergency responders. Typically swiftwater rescues are just one of many types of emergencies that first responders encounter. River guides and whitewater paddlers, by contrast, are totally focused on the river. Many paddle over 100 days per year. Because their time in the water is more limited, professional rescuers prefer gear intensive, rope-based systems to make rescues. River runners, for whom rescuing swimmers, unpinning boats, and picking off stranded paddlers is all in a day's work, are most comfortable working in the water. First responders are trained to work as a team with a well-defined chain of command. Whitewater paddlers are not used to this model, and usually respond individually or in small ad hoc groups.
Furthermore, both groups have unflattering stereotypes about the other. Groups as well trained as the Clear Creek Dive Team are rare. Most paddlers have heard about botched rescues by so-called professional SAR. I've often said that swiftwater rescue is the bastard stepchild of the EMS system. Emergencies that require these skills happen infrequently and training resources are limited. Consider this: if rescuers who have four days of swiftwater rescue training and four days of practice per year have less time on the river than an intermediate kayaker or rookie raft guide.
Rescue squads, by contrast, usually deal with the most inexperienced and irresponsible whitewater paddlers. In addition to body searches they are often called upon to help out clueless paddlers stranded on islands or mid-stream boulders. They see paddlers as "stupid, dope-smoking hippies" who don't wear PFD's or cold weather gear, who boat alone, and who can't rescue themselves or others. Trained whitewater paddlers, by contrast, handle their own mishaps and seldom call for outside help.
These different backgrounds produces very different styles for dealing with similar situations. Guides and paddlers have limited resources and are almost always presented with evolving situations that demand an and immediate response. They're not used to the teamwork and chain of command professionals use. Their fast-moving, in water techniques are seen as reckless, even dangerous, by SAR professionals. First responders have lots of gear and people, but are slow to respond. By the time they get there, most situations are stable, though unresolved. They are trained to resolve low-urgency, high-risk situations in the safest possible manner. This approach is seen as too slow moving and awkward by whitewater enthusiasts.
The latest wild card is an increased presence of cell phones. As cell service became more widespread first responders began to receive more and more calls from passers by. On roadside rivers, many calls involved problems that experienced rivermen should handle themselves. Sometimes paddlers or tubers who loose their craft call 911 for help. False alarms occur regularly on a roadside stretch of the Potomac near Harper's Ferry, WV. It's difficult for 911 operators to know what's going on. One livery operator told me that he often encounters rescue squads when picking up stranded customers or recovering pinned boats. He described a situation where two paddlers sunbathing on a midstream rock were reported as "stranded". A rescue involving two fire companies, a bridge closure, and a helicopter was set into motion. When AVA guides were searching Clear Creek they were not expecting outside help. Neither was the Clear Creek Dive Team told that there was a team of professional guides on the scene.
It's not easy for emergency responders to utilize the help of skilled bystanders. Imagine being the incident commander of a rescue team and being approached by someone who says he's a whitewater paddler trained in swiftwater rescue who wants to help. You really don't know if that person is who he says he is, but you do know if someone gets hurt you'll be in very big trouble. You, your crew, and the government you work for could be sued for damages. One professional said, "The world is full of idiots and wannabees and we don't have time to weed out the idiots and pick the good guys. We go with what we know."
In my swiftwater rescue classes I discuss what paddlers should do if you come across a rescue in progress. You have to work with the people who are there. Approach them and talk. Perhaps they'll accept your help. If not, you can assist on their terms, or move on. Sometimes hot-shot boaters jump into a rescue without talking to those involved, then screw it up. I still remember a fellow who came upon a boat pin I was trying to undo. He broke the boat, insulted the owner, and left us with a mess. Only the risk of death or serious injury justifies starting an fight or interfering with a rescue in progress. Even then, you should think twice before stepping in!
If you encounter a rescue squad working and think you can help, ask to speak to the incident commander. Make your case calmly and respectfully. You may still get turned down, and the IC may be pretty abrupt with you. I would think twice before pushing further. Remember that even a rescue that you don't think is optimal is often good enough. There's no question that Clear Creek Dive rescue could have made the rescue safely.
Over the years I've found many instances of strong cooperation between paddlers and first responders. But building a relationship takes time. Outfitters and paddling clubs who have a good working relationship with local EMS developed it before the emergency. Some paddlers and guides join rescue squads, some companies schedule joint training and develop formal or informal relationships with their local units. In places like the Nantahala and New Rivers the rescue squads typically depends on outfitters to manage the in-water portion of the rescue. Once the victim is on shore the greatest strengths of EMS professionals - advanced medical care and fast transportation - can be put to good use.
This story has a happy ending. Duke Bradford, owner of Arkansas Valley Adventures, stood behind his guides. The guides' arrest received wide publicity thoughout the region and drew hundreds of comments in chat rooms. The public was clearly sympathetic to the guides, but cooler heads recognized that the Dive Team had a point, too. There was plenty of blame to go around. Eventually the sheriff, district attorney, and guides had a sit-down. The guides wrote a letter of apology and the charges were dropped. Hopefully this is the beginning of cooperation, or at least mutual respect, between the outfitter and the dive team.
A Rescuer Arrested – How It Happened and What We Can Learn.
Experienced whitewater paddlers know how to deal with anything from a routine swims to a life-threatening pin. Despite this, very few of them are prepared to work with Emergency Responders. When police, fire, and rescue personnel arrive, the situation changes. They are, to use a legal phrase, the “designated state authority”. This means that they can take over a situation and arrest anyone who disobeys their lawful orders. First responders are usually better trained to handle emergencies than the average person. After all, no one runs into burning buildings or pulls people out of wrecked cars unless they know what they’re doing. Swiftwater rescue is a different story. Expert whitewater paddlers have superior in-water skills, better than most topnotch SAR professionals. When they want to help, they’re not always welcome.
Clear Creek, which runs along on I-70 and US 6 in Colorado’s Front Range, has sections ranging in difficulty from Class II to V. It’s a popular after work run for many Denver area boaters. But there are risks: six paddlers have died here in the last 20 years, along with a number of swimmers and fishermen. This past summer two raft guides were arrested while trying to rescue one of their guests. The story has useful lessons for paddlers, outfitters, and first responders.
It was a very high water day on June 10th when an Arkansas Valley Adventures raft missed an eddy at the end of their beginner trip and floated into the advanced section just downstream. They flipped, tossing everyone in the water. The adults got to shore but a 13 year-old little girl washed downstream through several miles of serious Class IV-V rapids. Ryan Snodgrass is a ten year veteran guide and a Class V kayaker who is certified in swiftwater rescue and first aid. He works as trip leader, guide trainer, and safety kayaker for the company. He’d just finished a trip on the intermediate section when his manager told him what happened. Grabbing his gear, he and several other guides began a wild drive downriver. Just below a tunnel they stopped and listened. They heard a girl screaming. They ran to the guard rail and spotted the girl on the far shore. Her back was against a cliff, so she couldn’t move up or downstream.
Someone, probably a passing motorist, had seen what happened and dialed 911. The Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Dive Rescue Team responded. Many rescue squads only deal with fast moving water once every 4-6 years and their training is spotty at best. This team is different. Set up in 1984 and trained by Dive Rescue Specialists and Rescue III. they are in the river year-round managing auto wrecks and searching for missing persons as well as responding to the usual swimming and boating accidents. They have a strong reputation in Colorado and are often called on to assist with searches and recoveries elsewhere.
Two strong teams, highly trained and confident, converged on the scene. Both felt a responsibility to perform the rescue. Adrenaline was flowing and everyone was keyed up. It’s not easy for two groups that don’t know each other to team up for a rescue under ideal conditions. This meeting was more like a collision. Several Dive Team members wearing civilian clothes shouted at the guides not to intervene. This would later escalate to shouting, cursing, name-calling, and shoving on both sides. But the guides were intent on doing their job, and paid them no mind.
Several guides planned to reach the girl so they could check her for injuries and offer support. They went downstream to calm stretch and set up safety so Mr. Snodgrass could swim across the river. He described the swim as “a simple jump from a rock at the bank and a swim ferry into a well defined eddy.” He moved quickly upstream and made contact. Finding her unhurt he began scouting for a place to catch a throwbag to pendulum her over to the near shore. That’s when a uniformed rescuer shouted that he was in charge and ordered Mr. Snodgrass not to move the girl. A CCDT rescue swimmer, after several attempts, made it across the river. (NB: most rescue squads don’t even have a rescue swimmer) The guide stepped back as the swimmer checked the young lady over and the rest of his team set up a system to bring a boat over and back. It took about 45 minutes to get the system up and the girl across. Mr. Snodgrass was then ordered to cross the river using the same system. When he reached the near shore, he was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail. A second guide, Justin Lariscy, was also arrested. They were both charged with “Obstructing a Rescue” and “Obstructing a Government Operation”.
Why such a serious conflict between two very competent groups? It starts with a real difference in training and philosophy between whitewater paddlers and emergency responders. Swiftwater rescues are just one type of emergency that first responders train for. River guides and whitewater paddlers, by contrast, are totally focused on the river. Many paddle over 100 days per year; rescuing swimmers, unpinning boats, and picking off stranded paddlers is all in a day’s work. Their different backgrounds result in very different rescue styles. Guides and paddlers have limited resources and are presented with evolving situations that demand immediate action. They respond individually or in small ad hoc groups with fast-moving, in water techniques that are considered reckless, even dangerous, by SAR professionals. First responders bring lots of gear and people but take more time to get to the scene. Most situations they encounter are stable, though unresolved. They are trained are to work as a team, with a well-defined chain of command. They handle these low-urgency, high-risk situations in the safest possible manner. Although this approach is seen as slow moving and awkward by whitewater paddlers, first responders would counter that rescuing members of the general public, rather than other paddlers, demands extra caution.
Furthermore, the groups each had unflattering stereotypes about the other. Emergency responders as well trained as the Clear Creek Dive Team are rare, and paddlers are more familiar with many bungled rescues made by other “professional” SAR units. For most first responders, emergencies requiring moving water skills are quite unusual, and training resources are therefore limited. Even a rescuer who has six days of swiftwater rescue training and takes four days of practice per year has less time on the river than the average intermediate kayaker or rookie raft guide. So naturally they work differently than true whitewater experts.
Rescue squads usually deal with the most inexperienced and irresponsible whitewater paddlers. They do body searches and help out clueless river runners stranded on islands or mid-stream boulders. Not surprisingly, they think of paddlers as “stupid, beer-drinking, dope-smoking hippies” who don’t wear PFD’s or cold weather gear, take stupid risks, and don’t take care of themselves. Trained whitewater paddlers and guides, by contrast, handle their own mishaps and seldom call for outside help. So the two seldom meet.
Cell phone usage creates additional challenges. Nowadays 911 operators often receive calls from passers by. On roadside rivers these calls often involve problems that experienced rivermen can manage themselves. False alarms occur regularly. On one roadside stretch of the Potomac near Harper’s Ferry, WV. 911 operators hear not only from drivers, but also from livery customers who loose their boats or tubes and call for help. One outfitter told me that he often encounters rescue squads when picking up stranded customers or recovering pinned boats. Sometimes there are arguments about “who is in charge” and a simple situation turns more complex. He described one incident where two paddlers sunbathing on a midstream rock were reported as “stranded”. This set in motion a huge response involving two fire companies, a major bridge closure, and a helicopter! But It’s pretty difficult for 911 operators to know what’s going on and everyone probably over-reacts in the interest of safety. The AVA guides who were searching Clear Creek never called for outside help, and the Clear Creek Dive Team was not told that there was a team of skilled professional guides on the scene.
One other concern with over-reaction, aside from the wasted resources, is that rescuers have occasionally tried to help people who don’t want or need assistance. This has been an issue in the mountains when relatives of overdue climbers notify authorities. For skilled climbers, waiting out a bad storm for several days is not only possible, its prudent. Some years ago a young man named Scott Mason got lost in Mount Washington’s Great Gulf in winter. Although he was several days overdue, he was tough and self reliant. He was walking out on his own when the “rescuers” found him. Later he got a $10,000 bill from the state that was only withdrawn after an extended legal and political fight. You can decline help, politely but firmly, and should do so when it’s appropriate. The rafting company, if given the opportunity, would have probably done this.
Emergency responders are rightfully wary of accepting help from skilled bystanders. Imagine, as the incident commander of a rescue team, being approached by someone who says he’s a whitewater paddler trained in swiftwater rescue who wants to help. You really don’t really know if that person is who he says he is, but you do know that when someone gets hurt you’ll be held responsible. You, your crew, and the government could be sued for damages. One professional put it bluntly, “The world is full of idiots and wannabees and we don't have time to weed out the idiots and pick the good guys. We go with people we know.” They are required to secure the scene, and this means keeping people who aren’t part of the team away from the action.
In swiftwater rescue classes I discuss what paddlers should do if they encounter another group paddlers with a rescue in progress. Put simply, you have to work with the people who are already there. Maybe those folks will accept your input. If not, you can help out on their terms or move on. Sometimes a hot-shot boater who jumps into a rescue without talking to those involved screws everything up. I still remember a fellow who came upon a pinned open canoe I was trying to release. He barged in, and a few minutes later broke the boat in half, insulted the boat owner, and left us with a mess. Months later he still felt he had performed a useful service. Only the actual risk of death or serious injury justifies starting an argument or interfering with a rescue in progress. Even then, you should think twice.
If you encounter a rescue squad working on a river rescue and think you can help, ask to speak to the incident commander. Make your case calmly and respectfully. You may still get turned down; the IC is under a lot of pressure and may be pretty abrupt with you. Rescue squads vary in how open they are to outside help; some have written polices against it, other leave it to the incident commander’s discretion. Remember that even a rescue that you don’t think is ideal is often good enough. Be patient. There’s no question that either the Clear Creek Dive rescue team or the guides could have rescued the young girl safely. If a rescue squad comes across an incident that you’re working, send someone who can serve as tripleader up to talk. Explain what’s happening and ask for whatever help you need. In one incident, Adirondack Park Rangers were called to the scene of a fatality where the victim’s group was working hard to recover her body. They set up their system, then approached the paddlers, and asked if they could attempt the recovery. They were in fact successful, and their sensitivity brought them a great deal of respect from the whitewater community.
Over the years I’ve found many examples of strong cooperation between paddlers and first responders. Building this relationship takes time. Outfitters and paddling clubs who have a solid relationship with EMS usually worked on it before an emergency. Some paddlers and guides join rescue squads and some outfitters schedule joint training to develop a formal or informal relationship with local teams. In places like the Nantahala and New Rivers rescue squads typically depend on outfitters to manage the in-water portion of the rescue. Once the victim is on shore they take over. Then the greatest strengths of EMS professionals – advanced medical care and fast transportation – come into play.
This story had a reasonably happy ending. Duke Bradford, owner of Arkansas Valley Adventures, stood firmly behind his guides. The guides’ arrest received wide publicity throughout the region and drew hundreds of comments in chat rooms. The Sheriff received a torrent of critical emails and phone calls. Although the public was clearly sympathetic to the guides, cooler heads recognized that the Dive Team had a point, too. There was plenty of blame to go around. Eventually the sheriff, district attorney, and guides had a sit-down. The guides wrote a letter of apology and the charges were dropped. We expect that this is the beginning of real cooperation, or at least mutual respect, between the outfitter and the county dive team.