2013 Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards in Swiftwater Rescue Announced


hlawardASHEVILLE, NC, May 25, 2013—The Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund is proud to announce the 2013 Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards, which recognize excellence in the field of flood and swiftwater rescue.  This year marks the 20th Anniversary of these prestigious international awards.

Awards are presented to swiftwater and flood rescue experts worldwide in several categories: the Outstanding Achievement Award, Program Development Award, Special Commendation Award, Swiftwater Rescue Incident Award, and the rarely bestowed Lifetime Achievement Award.

The awards will be presented on Friday, May 31, 2013, at 7:30 PM, at the annual National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR) conference – Sheraton Myrtle Beach Conference Hotel, 2101 North Oak Street, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577; telephone: (843) 918-5000.


2013 Higgins & Langley Awards


Lifetime Achievement Award

Jim Lavalley

Jim Lavalley

Jim Lavalley

Chilliwack, B.C. Canada

Jim Lavalley is a visionary leader, swiftwater rescue equipment designer/developer/tester, and master swiftwater, flood and ice rescue and boat instructor, who has had a worldwide impact on the growth and development of swiftwater/flood/ice rescue as a unique technical rescue discipline.  He first garnered recognition in the 1970s as a river guide, running the wild rivers of Canada and providing rescue training to commercial rafting guides.  As founder and president of Rescue Canada, Jim developed new rescue techniques to improve victim and rescuer safety based on the International Rescue Instructors Alliance standards.  Jim’s swiftwater boat operations programs are the foundation for the majority of training programs taught in Canada and the United States today.  Jim has steadily worked to improve techniques, equipment and training programs for water rescue personnel to more successfully aid victims caught in life-threatening swift water.  In 1997 Jim formed Force 6 Safety Products and began designing and building equipment unavailable anywhere else, including the innovative Force 6 Rescuer and Instructor personal flotation devices (PFDs) – creating a new standard for high float PFDs designed specifically for swiftwater rescue – and the weight forward Dart and Delta throw bags.  In 2012, the new, innovative Force 6 RescueTec was introduced as the first and only PFD to meet the new USCG Class 5 Rescue Professional PFD Standard.  Jim has been an international, court qualified subject matter expert since 1988, and continues to be the go-to person for swiftwater rescue problems.  He is frequently contacted by public safety agencies and the courts that have swiftwater/flood/ice or boat issues and concerns.  Jim has spent his entire career improving safety for people who live, work and recreate around the water.  Procedures developed by Jim have been passed down from instructor to instructor resulting in thousands of swiftwater rescue personnel around the world benefiting from his vast expertise and experience.


Outstanding Achievement Award

FDNY Special Operations Command Task Force

New York, NY

FDNY swiftwater rescue training with Sierra Rescue

FDNY swiftwater rescue training with Sierra Rescue

When New York was hit by Hurricane Sandy, the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Special Operations Command Task Force divided the worst-hit areas of the city into Branches:  Breezy Branch, Staten Branch, Rockaway Branch, Far Rockaway Branch, and Broad Channel Branch.  In each of those branches dozens to hundreds of rescues were conducted as the storm surge overtook New York City’s coastal zones in a disaster that inundated or washed away entire towns from the Jersey Shore to Nassau County.  As the storm hit with full force, at night, FDNY rescue companies, operating in dangerous conditions, with 90+ mile-per-hour winds and churning, chest-deep floodwater, saved people trapped in flooded power plants and residential streets, on rooftops, and in the midst of several conflagrations with buildings burning.  Without FDNY’s robust water rescue program, countless lives would surely have been lost during this devastating super storm.

Rockaway Point Volunteer Fire Department

Rockaway Point, NY

On the night of October 29, 2012, five members of the Rockaway Point Volunteer Fire Department’s water rescue unit rescued more than 20 individuals from flooded homes and homes that were threatened by a large fire that claimed over 100 houses at the height of Hurricane Sandy.  With their fire station flooded and their fire pumper truck and ambulance submerged, Capt. Michael Valentine, Lt. Brandon Riley, Lt. James Morton, F/F Michael Kahlau, and F/F Brian Doyle deployed two rescue boats and battled through the fierce storm, in extreme conditions, relying on invaluable training and skill to safely rescue everyone.


Program Development Award

New Jersey State Police Open Water Rescue Program

The New Jersey State Police Open Water Rescue Program was initiated when too many law enforcement, fire, and EMS agencies were sending first responders who were unequipped and not properly trained to manage dangerous water rescues, hurricanes and coastal flooding events.  Unique to the rescue program is storm surge flood training, which requires specific planning, skill, and capability beyond inland flood and swiftwater rescue training.  Since 2006, the Open Water Rescue Program has provided training to more than 1,800 police, fire, EMS, and lifeguard first-responders from over 100 agencies, preparing them for lifesaving missions during the many hurricanes, storms and floods which routinely strike the region.


Special Commendation Award

“Rescue for River Runners”

Jim Coffey

Michael McKay

JimCoffey2“Rescue for River Runners” is an impressive educational video series that raises awareness within the recreational whitewater community about swiftwater rescue, including self-rescue, river hazards, and whitewater boating safety.  Jim Coffey’s expertise as a swiftwater rescue instructor, and Michael McKay’s skill as a videographer, lend unique authenticity to each episode.  The complete series is offered online, which ensures that river guides and paddlers worldwide have easy access to critical lifesaving information to help prevent deaths and injuries.



Swiftwater Rescue Incident Awards

Killeen Fire Department Technical Rescue Team

Killeen, TX

On the night of March 19-20, 2012, the Killeen Fire Department’s Technical Rescue Team responded to a number of swiftwater rescue events in Class 4 floodwaters downstream from a low water crossing over the Leon River.  The team’s dedication to training and practice became evident as they evacuated more than 50 victims from rising floodwater and rescued three victims in harrowing danger in the river in a downpour of rain.  Each victim posed a different, but equally difficult and hazardous problem.  The first was stranded in the churning river on a midstream tree, the second was being swept downstream, and the third was trapped in her car with only a small pocket of air left.  The team not only successfully rescued all three victims, but maintained their own safety as well.  During the final rescue, the team’s boat became entrapped on a dangerous, submerged “strainer” midstream in the torrent.  With the proper equipment and training, swiftwater rescue personnel were able to free the boat and make it to shore safely.  That every person in life-threatening danger was rescued is a testament to the Killeen Fire Department’s swiftwater rescue training and capability.

Haw River Incident

North Carolina

On March 25, 2012 North Chatham Volunteer Fire Department received a call for two stranded canoeists on the flood-swollen Haw River.  Swiftwater rescue teams from four agencies responded to the scene.  Their training was put to the test as they located and rescued these two victims.  When problems developed with one of the rescue boats, one rescuer was thrown into the water, one managed to grasp a tree limb, and one was able to stay with the boat.  Because of the training and planning by the three responding agencies, both civilian victims and all swiftwater rescue team members went home safely after a job well done.


Special 20th Anniversary Awards:

Founders Award

Paul McMinn

Emily King

In 1993, Emily King and Paul McMinn were serving as co-chairs of the National Association of Search & Rescue (NASAR) Water Rescue Committee when Los Angeles County Firefighter/Paramedic Jeff Langley lost his life in a tragic helicopter incident.  Paul and Emily proposed a modest award, named in honor of Jeff Langley and civilian Earl Higgins.  The history of the Higgins & Langley Memorial Award parallels the history of the growth and development of emergency services-based swiftwater and flood rescue in the United States and worldwide.  As we mark the 20th Anniversary of the awards, we offer special recognition to our founders, Emily King, an international expert in boating education and water rescue representing the National Safe Boating Council, and Paul McMinn, Assistant Recreational Director, South Bend Parks and Recreation Department, who developed and directed the Indiana River Rescue School for ten years.


Service Award

Fred “Slim” Ray

Slim Ray

Slim Ray

 Slim Ray is an internationally-recognized authority on flood, swiftwater and whitewater safety and rescue with more than twenty years of experience in swiftwater rescue, including course development and instruction with Rescue 3, Canyonlands Field Institute, and the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  He has written and lectured extensively on the subject.  An active recreational kayaker, he has worked as a raft guide and canoe and kayak instructor both in the United States and abroad.  Slim has been involved in the development and management of the Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund – a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization – since its inception.  After 20 years, Slim is retiring from the Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund Board of Directors, and we are offering special thanks for his dedication, professionalism, vision, and steadfast support.



The Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards were established in 1993 by the National Association for Search and Rescue Swiftwater Rescue Committee in honor of Earl Higgins, a writer and filmmaker, who lost his life in 1980 while rescuing a child who was swept down the Los Angeles River, and Los Angeles County Firefighter Paramedic Jeffrey Langley, a pioneer in swiftwater rescue who lost his life in a helicopter incident in 1993.

The Awards have increased awareness about the need for specialized swiftwater and flood rescue training and preparedness.  Today, worldwide training certifications have increased and agencies have been inspired to develop viable water rescue programs to protect the public and rescuers alike.

The Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards are sponsored by Angel-Guard Rescue Curtain/Los Angeles County Fire Department, CFS Press, CMC Rescue, Inc., Esprit Whitewater, Fire and Rescue Concepts, LLC, K38 Water Safety, Liquid Militia, Mustang Survival, Ozark Rescue Suppliers, Rescue Canada, Rescue ONE Connector Boats, Rescue 3 International/Rescue Source, River Hydrology Designs, Sierra Rescue/Rescue 3 West, Sierra Rescue Tools LLC, SkyHook Rescue Systems, Inc., and Whitewater Rescue Institute, with additional support provided by the Rudi Schulte Family Foundation, Jon Stephen and Karen Langley Stephen, and the family of John B. and Shirley A. Rigg, as well as contributions from many generous individuals, including Marshall Parks and Leonard A. Martin.



18 May 2012, 1:47 PM AET

New South Wales State Emergency Services

For the first time ever, the highly prestigious Higgins and Langley Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in Swiftwater Rescue will be awarded to an Australian. It is in fact the first time the award has been presented to an individual outside of the United States.

Shannon Crofton, recipient of the 2012 Higgins & Langley Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in Swiftwater Rescue.

Shannon Crofton, a volunteer with the NSW SES and a full-time firefighter with Fire and Rescue NSW, has been honoured with the award for the work he has undertaken as a volunteer in swiftwater rescue training and development.

The Outstanding Achievement Award, the premier internationally-recognized award for excellence in swiftwater and flood rescue (background details below), has only ever been presented to an individual on two occasions previously in the 13 years of its history- posthumously to Jeffrey Langley, a firefighter/paramedic and swiftwater rescue pioneer from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and Tim Rogers, Charlotte NC Fire Department. 

Shannon was nominated for the award following the swiftwater rescue program he developed and has continued to build in the Sydney Southern Region where he is the Flood Rescue Officer. His approach is holistic and inclusive and swiftwater technicians in the NSW SES have benefited from his experience and research as a result.

“The extra training that Shannon has provided to the (Sydney Southern) Swiftwater Technicians has substantially increased our capability across the Region and the state. I like that he gives us personalised training, he consults and tailors training to our requirements and in the recent flash flooding across Sydney, that training really helped us execute successful and safe rescues.” Swiftwater Technician, Jason Cocchietto said.

He currently runs a monthly training night for all of the Swiftwater Technicians in his region, with an open invitation for other members from around the state to attend and ran a night in-water training session with a vehicle, a scholarship program that was funded through the NSW SES Volunteers Association.

“Shannon has recognised the need for ongoing training on a regular basis and filled the gap that previously existed. We get to train regularly, work with the other technicians in our area and practice our techniques in a live environment” Jason added.

Shannon is also the recipient of a 2012 Churchill Fellowship, where he will be touring the USA and Canada to research current best practice in helicopter utilisation for flood rescues. This research will supplement the trip Shannon made to the States last June in flood incident management and in-water training techniques. The addition of aviation assets in flood rescue adds a whole new dimension that will be a great asset to the NSW SES.

We caught up with Shannon for a chat about his program:

How did you feel when you found out about the award?

Shannon Crofton, a volunteer with the NSW SES and a full-time firefighter with Fire and Rescue NSW, is being honoured for the work he has undertaken in swiftwater rescue training and development.

I was stunned, but obviously amazingly honoured, when I received the call from the Higgins and Langley Board. To be the recipient of such a prestigious award from my peers in the swiftwater rescue community is such a buzz.

Initially it was very much a shock and I feel very humbled to be recognised amongst this field of people. The reality of it took a few days to sink in!

So what does the program entail, how does it set the NSW SES apart from other programs out there?

The idea of the program is that it is all-inclusive approach to swiftwater and flood rescue.

We look at everything from roping work to boat operators, to in-water to boats and helicopters. The programs encourages operators from all areas of swiftwater and flood rescue to work together and more importantly- train together regularly so that we all get to know and are comfortable with each other’s skills sets. A rescue is no time to be learning new techniques.

There are also modules in the program that specifically look at the health and safety of the rescue personnel as well as scenarios that use props to assist in the simulation of real rescue situations.

I do have to acknowledge the dedication and enthusiasm of the NSW SES members, who work alongside me, turn up for training and support the program. Without them, this wouldn’t have ever been a possibility and their continued support of the program makes my job such a pleasure.

Will you be receiving your award in person?

Yes, in Lake Tahoe as part of the NASAR conference that I am also presenting at.

It will be a pretty huge thing for me because I will be receiving this award in front of the previous and current leaders in swiftwater rescue internationally.

There is just so much important work being undertaken in the flood rescue field across the globe, it’s great that we have been recognised on the world scale. 

What is NASAR and what are you presenting at the conference?

It’s the National Association for Search and Rescue. My presentation is on Observations from Australia’s largest flood rescue response and it was just fortuitous that I am there for the presentation of the award as well.

So, being the highest award in swiftwater rescue, where do you go from here?

There is still a lot of work to be done!

Flood and swiftwater rescue is a dynamic environment. A lot of work continues being undertaken in this field to reduce the risk to rescuers.

Basically, we can always make something good better, so we need to not rest on our laurels and ensure we keep up to date with world’s best-practice as new techniques are discovered and make sure these techniques are integrated with our training programs.

There is also the need to increase the education of the public.

Preventing the need for rescues is so important, and it only comes through educating people about the risks they face. You only have to look at the ‘No Way Out’ program that was rolled out into schools in LA, California. The implementation of this program into schools and in line with their curriculum dramatically cut the number of deaths in that age group during the storms in Los Angeles.

So, while this award is amazing, the swiftwater program is far from complete!

About the Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards:

The Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards are acknowledged internationally as the premier recognition for accomplishments in swiftwater and flood rescue. The awards were established in 1993 in honour of Earl Higgins, a writer and filmmaker who lost his life in 1980 while rescuing a child who was swept down the flood-swollen Los Angeles River, and Jeffrey Langley, a Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighter-paramedic and swiftwater rescue pioneer, who lost his life in a helicopter incident in 1993.

The Higgins and Langley Memorial Awards are not intended as recognition of heroism only, but acknowledge individuals and swiftwater rescue teams that have utilized this specialized technical rescue discipline for lifesaving, increased awareness about the need for swiftwater and flood rescue training, promoted worldwide training standards of certification, and inspired other agencies to develop viable water rescue programs.

Award Categories:

There are five categories of awards:

Incident Award – A specific incident may be recognized. Essential criteria are actions that clearly demonstrate outstanding skill and preparedness in a swiftwater rescue. Multiple awards may be presented in a calendar year.

Special Commendation – Recognizes the breadth of possible contribution in the field of swiftwater rescue. Awards of this type can be for media contribution, product innovations, strategic planning, individual heroism or esprit de corps. Results are reflected within the swiftwater community and/or the general public. Multiple awards may be presented in a calendar year.

Program Development- Presented to individuals or agencies that commit time, resources and training for successful swiftwater rescue program development. Programs must reflect a level of excellence that defines ‘state of the art’ deployment for swiftwater and flood rescue, and can be considered international models for the science. Long-range outcome is a fundamental criteria.   Multiple awards may be presented in any calendar year.

Outstanding Achievement- Is the premier internationally-recognized award for excellence in swiftwater and flood rescue. It signifies an intense dedication to the field and a genuine desire to benefit the larger community responsible for the service. Safety and competence are key criteria. Only one award may be presented in any calendar year.

Lifetime Achievement- Reserved for those few individuals who make a significant, lasting and continuous impact in the field of swiftwater rescue. Criteria include time-honored or notable results. Lifetime Achievement Awards are rarely awarded.

The Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards are sponsored by CFS Press, CMC Rescue, Inc., ESPRIT Whitewater, Fire and Rescue Concepts, LLC, K38 Water Safety, Liquid Militia, Mustang Survival, Rescue Canada, Rescue 3 International/Rescue Source, Rescue ONE Connector Boats, Sierra Rescue/Rescue 3 West, Whitewater Rescue Institute, and SkyHook Rescue Systems, Inc.  Additional support for the awards is provided by the Rudi Schulte Family Foundation, Jon Stephen and Karen Langley Stephen, and the family of John B. and Shirley A. Rigg, as well as contributions from other generous individuals.

Original article published by NSW SES: http://www.ses.nsw.gov.au

Reproduced with permission

Mustang Survival Partners with Higgins and Langley Memorial Awards on Water Rescue Preparation and Awareness at FDIC

April 17, 2012 (Bellingham, WA) – Mustang Survival will be supporting the Higgins and Langley Memorial and Education Fund at the 2012 Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) to bring awareness about the increased need for water rescue professional education and preparedness. This annual industry conference and exhibit focuses on educating firefighters and water rescue professionals on the latest topics in the industry.

The Higgins and Langley Memorial Awards honor outstanding achievement in swift water and flood rescue. The fund recognizes preparedness, teamwork, and a job well done, often under extreme conditions, and promotes training, which is vital to the success of rescue missions, as well as the safety of rescue personnel and the victims.

The awards were established in 1993 by members of the Swift Water Rescue Committee of the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR) in honor of Earl Higgins, a writer and filmmaker who lost his life in 1980 while rescuing a child who was swept down the flood-swollen Los Angeles River, and Jeffrey Langley, a Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighter-paramedic, who lost his life in a helicopter incident in 1993.

“We are extremely proud to be supporting the Higgins and Langley Memorial Foundation and its mission to recognize water rescue professionals and provide them and their families with the education and support they need,” comments Dave Abt, Business Development for Mustang Survival. “As a solution provider to this user community, this initiative is a great opportunity to show our support and help raise awareness about an issue close to our hearts – ensuring the safe return of rescue professionals and their victims.”

Mustang Survival will be showing in its booth the video Ready for the Storm, created by award-winning documentary filmmaker Nancy Rigg. Ready for the Storm won a Gold Award from the prestigious independent film and video competition Aurora Awards for the realistic documentation of swift water rescue professionals and the danger they face.

Mustang Survival will also be showcasing its latest water rescue solutions, including two new dry suits. Attendees can also see Mustang Survival’s Water Rescue Kit in action in the Grainger Industrial Supply booth #1341 on Friday, April 20 at 4:00 pm and Saturday, April 21, at 12:00 noon.

For more information, visit Mustang Survival in booth #536 or visit http://www.mustangsurvival.com. For more information about Higgins and Langley Memorial and Education Fund visit http://higginsandlangley.org.

About Mustang Survival

Mustang Survival has been providing lifesaving solutions for over 45 years. Through constant innovation and application of new technologies, Mustang is the leading supplier of quality flotation and hypothermia protection products to the most demanding users – from fishermen, sailors and commercial mariners to the Coast Guard, First Responders and fighter pilots.

Mustang Survival. We save lives for a living.

Ciaran Jones, Off-Duty Irish Police Officer, Loses Life Heroically in Floodwaters

By Nancy J. Rigg

A 25-year old, off-duty police officer in Ireland – Ciaran Jones – lost his life in an act of selfless heroism, when powerful storms lashed the East Coast of Ireland on October 24, 2011, causing widespread flooding.

According to news reports, Jones was in a vehicle with his brother, Alan, and a close friend, approaching Ballysmuttan Bridge, which spans the River Liffey.  Jones noted that the river was flood-swollen, threatening the safety of the bridge itself, as well as any motorists who might unknowingly try to drive across it.  Jones stepped out of his car and headed towards the bridge to warn other motorists to turn back.  Sadly, he somehow got caught in the rising torrent and was swept downstream.

Ciaran Jones lost his life in raging floodwaters, protecting others.

Jones’ remains were recovered on October 25th, 4km downstream from where he was swept away.  Glen of Imaal Red Cross Mountain Rescue Team coordinated the search effort.  According to a news report in Irish Central : “The Irish Coast Guard, the Garda (police) helicopter and mountain and river rescue teams joined Jones’ colleagues in the search before his body was discovered at Ballyward Bridge, near Manor Kilbride.”

Officer (Garda) Jones was a four-year veteran of the gardaí, based at Stepaside in County Dublin.

A funeral mass was held for Jones in Manor Kilbride, Co Wicklow, on Friday, October 28, 2011.   Jones is survived by his parents, Brenda and John, a younger brother and sister – Alan and Michelle – and his girlfriend, Clare Kennedy, who spoke at the mass about meeting Jones when they were in their teens and falling in love.

In addition to his police work, Jones was an accomplished “footballer,” playing rugby with the Clondalkin rugby team.

Fore more information:


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Remembering Princeton Swiftwater Rescue Team Member, Michael Kenwood

By Nancy J. Rigg

Michael Kenwood, Swiftwater Rescue Team. Photo Courtesy of Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad.

Michael Kenwood, an EMT with the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad, lost his life in the line of duty while attempting a nighttime swiftwater rescue on August 28, 2011, as Hurricane Irene inundated much of New Jersey.  The former director of the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo), and  alumnus of the Brandeis Class of 1994, was 39.

According to news reports, Kenwood and a fellow member of the swiftwater rescue team were responding at 4:30 in the morning to reports of a vehicle that authorities believed was occupied and being submerged quickly in rapidly rising floodwaters.

It is unclear exactly what went wrong, but Kenwood was somehow swept into the powerful torrent and pulled, unconscious, farther downstream.  He was quickly transported to University Medical Center at Princeton.  While under treatment in the ICU, unfortunately, there were errors in reporting his death prematurely.  He died one day later, on August 29th.

According to a Brandeis University memorial article, Kenwood earned a law degree from Boston University and owned his own company, Kenwood Technical Consulting.  He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Frenkel, and 3-year-old daughter, who live in East Windsor, NJ.

In May 1990, a few months before enrolling at Brandeis, Kenwood was reportedly involved in an auto accident that changed the course of his life.  He shared his story in a 1993 letter to BEMCo:

“I will never forget the feeling of fear and helplessness that swept over me as I looked from my two friends, one of whom was unconscious, to the hysterical driver of the other car, to my right wrist, which was deeply lacerated and bleeding heavily,” Kenwood wrote. “I swore to myself that if I lived, I would learn the skills to care for myself and others should another medical emergency ever confront me again.

.. Being a member of BEMCo has been highly significant for me. From the most basic medical perspective, it’s given me the chance to apply and to share my skills as an EMT.  Beyond that, I’ve met some wonderfully talented and dedicated people.  Finally, it’s given me countless opportunities to grow as an individual.”

Remembering Michael Kenwood

Sadly, it was in service to others that Kenwood lost his own life.

Kenwood is the fourth swiftwater rescuer to die this year, within a deadly and tragic two month time period.

Search and Rescue (SAR) volunteer, Sheilah Sweatman, 29, drowned on June 29th during a recovery mission in the Goat River near Creston, B.C.

Converse County Sheriff’s Deputy Bryan Gross, 29, lost his life on July 28th, during a river rescue incident on the North Platte River in Wyoming.

And Missouri State Trooper, Frederick F. Guthrie, Jr., 46, and his K-9 partner, Reed, were swept away in a powerful flash flood on August 1st.  Reed’s body was recovered, but, sadly, Guthrie is still missing.

Kenwood is one of at least 45 deaths in 13 states that have been attributed to Hurricane Irene, with the majority of losses caused by powerful inland floodwaters, the churning surf along the coastline, and falling trees.

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Condolences may be sent to:

Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad
P.O. Box 529
Princeton, NJ 08542-0529

Brandeis University Article:


Trooper Frederick F. Guthrie, Jr. Support Fund

By Nancy J. Rigg

Missouri State Trooper Frederick F. Guthrie Jr., and his Patrol K-9 Reed

It is with deep sorrow that we must report yet another public safety, line of duty loss in the swift water environment. Missouri State Trooper, Frederick F. Guthrie, Jr., 46, and his K-9 partner, Reed, have evidently drowned in powerful floodwaters, according to Colonel Ronald K. Replogle, Superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Patrol K-9 Reed’s body has been recovered, but Trooper Guthrie remains missing.

According to Highway Patrol reports, on August 1, 2011, Trooper Guthrie and Reed were working Missouri River flood duty in Holt County, Missouri, when they were both apparently swept away in a raging torrent.

On Tuesday August 2, 2011, at approximately 6:25 p.m. K-9 Reed’s remains were recovered approximately 100 yards from where Trooper Guthrie’s Patrol truck and boat were located. Reed was a five year K-9 veteran with the Patrol.

The recovery effort for Guthrie has been ongoing for nearly one week since he and Reed were swept away.

A support fund has been established to assist the family of Trooper Guthrie, who is a 17 year veteran trooper.  Guthrie leaves behind a wife and three children.

The support fund has been established at the Bank of Weston, Missouri. The address is Post Office Box 8, Weston, Missouri 64098. The funds should be sent to the bank in care of the Guthrie Family fund.

The death of Trooper Guthrie marks the third line of duty death in swift water within the last six weeks, and K-9 Reed’s death marks the first on duty canine death. Converse County Sheriff’s Deputy Bryan Gross, 29, lost his life during a river rescue in Wyoming on July 28, 2011. And Sheilah Sweatman, 29, of the British Columbia Search and Rescue Association lost her life in the Goat River during a recovery operation on June 29, 2011, near Creston, BC, in Canada.

Sheriff Deputy Bryan Gross, Wyoming

Sheilah Sweatman, British Columbia.

More must be done to protect law enforcement, fire rescue and other officials serving in flood zones, or deployed to missions involving swift water.  It is hoped that comprehensive investigations of these recent tragedies will yield improvements in flood and swiftwater rescue preparedness for all public safety agencies nationwide.

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Posted by: njrigg | August 3, 2011

Wyoming Deputy, Bryan P. Gross, Hailed as Hero

Wyoming Deputy, Bryan P. Gross, Hailed as Hero

by Nancy J. Rigg

Deputy Bryan Gross

It is with great sadness that we must report a second line of duty death, within one month’s time, involving swift water.

Converse County Sheriff’s Deputy Bryan Gross, 29, lost his life on Thursday, July 28th, during a river rescue incident on the North Platte River in Wyoming.  Gross died just one month after Search and Rescue volunteer, Sheilah Sweatman, 29, lost her life during a swiftwater rescue mission in the Goat River, in British Columbia, on June 29, 2011.

Deputy Gross and other rescuers attempted to save the life of a distressed 14 year old teenage girl who entered the river and was swept away. The girl was rescued about a mile downstream. Despite intensive search efforts, Gross’s body was not recovered until four days later on July 31st.

Because of heavy snow melt, the North Platte River has been running higher than usual, with very cold water, making it extremely dangerous.  There have been numerous drowning deaths in Wyoming this year, including a family of four from Colorado who were killed when the highway beneath them was suddenly washed out during a heavy rainstorm.

Converse County Sheriff Clinton Becker hailed Deputy Gross as a hero, noting that his actions went beyond the call of duty.  Becker was quoted in the Washington Post: “He (Deputy Gross) made a decision to do what he did, and he did it to the best of his ability.”

As a result of this tragedy, Sheriff Becker told news reporters that the department will consider issuing PFDs (personal flotation devices, or life jackets) to deputies to carry in their patrol vehicles.  “We don’t do a whole lot of our work by the river — 95 percent of our work is out on the prairie,” Becker reportedly said. “But on occasion such as this incident, you just never know.”

Bryan served with the Converse County Search and Rescue and was a K-9 handler.

Bryan Gross was recently married, leaving behind a young widow.  In addition to his patrol duties, Gross was a K-9 handler and served with the Converse County Search and Rescue Team.  His police dog, Gus, helped search for Gross’s remains.

Funeral services were held on Saturday, August 6, 2011.

The Gorman Funeral Homes – Converse Chapel of Douglas – has been in charge of handling the arrangements.

Condolences may be sent to the family at gormanfh.com.

In remembrance of Deputy Bryan Gross.

Photos courtesy of PRAYERS FOR BRYAN GROSS:


Those wishing to donate to the funeral services are encouraged to visit Converse County Bank or send check by mail to:
Amy Gross c/o, CCSO, 107 N. 5th St. Douglas, WY 82633.
Donations can also be made to Search and Rescue at Converse County Bank 322 Walnut St., Douglas, WY 82633

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SAR Volunteer Sheilah Sweatman Drowns

During Recovery Mission in the Goat River in Canada

By Nancy J. Rigg

Sheilah Sweatman, 29, drowned July 29th, 2011

Search and Rescue (SAR) volunteer, Sheilah Sweatman, 29, drowned Wednesday, June 29, 2011, during a recovery mission in the Goat River near Creston, B.C.  Sweatman’s body has been recovered.  The search for the remains of the initial victim, Lana Chipesia, 23, of Creston, has been suspended, due to the dangerous conditions in the river.

News reports indicate that her family understood Sheilah Sweatman’s sense of commitment to search and rescue, as well as recovery operations in water.   A coroner’s investigation is underway.

Speaking on behalf of families who have had loved ones missing in open water, or whose loved ones are currently missing, none of us would ever want a rescuer to die in pursuit of a recovery operation.  The potential danger must not serve as an automatic excuse for doing nothing, however.  Finding and recovering the physical remains of a missing loved one is often a vital step in the grief recovery process for surviving family members.  There must be a sensible, safe, and compassionate balance in this decision making process.

We offer sincere condolences to Sheila Sweatman’s family, friends, and fellow SAR specialists, including swiftwater rescue team members.  You are all in our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.

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For the first time, custom designed HIGGINS & LANGLEY AWARD TEE SHIRTS and BASEBALL CAPS are available for purchase.

The CAP is 100% brushed cotton twill, with an adjustable fabric tab back – with a brass D-ring slider.

Official baseball cap, with Higgins & Langley Award logo.


The tee shirts feature the Higgins & Langley Award logo, plus the motto: Courage * Skill * Honor.

Official Higgins & Langley Award tee shirts.

The cost is $20.00 (US) each, plus shipping.  Our sponsor, Rescue 3/Rescue Source, is handling the orders for us.

100% of the proceeds go to support the Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund, including the Higgins & Langley Award in Swiftwater Rescue.

Thank you for supporting our fund raising efforts to sustain these important awards.

Order information:

Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund:


Rescue 3/Rescue Source:


Thank you for supporting the Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards and our other important education programs.

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Posted by: njrigg | June 7, 2011

No Way Out! Flood and River Safety Information

No Way Out!
Flood and River Safety Information

By Nancy J. Rigg
Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund

Earl Higgins lost his life in the flood-swollen Los Angeles River when he rescued a 10-year old boy who fell into the raging torrent.

Flooding – including rising river floods, flash floods, flood-swollen rivers and streams, and hurricane spawned floods – is the leading cause of weather-related death.  Sadly, flash flood and river drowning tragedies often involve more than one family member, as loved ones scramble to help those who have gotten into trouble in the water.  Strangers, who are Good Samaritans, can also pay the ultimate price for attempting to rescue someone who has been swept away.

Fast flowing water can be deceptively dangerous.  When flood runoff is compressed into a cement-lined channel, just six inches of swift water can knock you off your feet and prevent you from being able to stand up again.  You will more than likely be swept downstream, at the mercy of the current.

Vehicles, including heavy trucks, can get swept away in less than 2-feet of swift water.  Never drive through moving water. 70% of all rising flood and flash-flood related fatalities are in vehicles.

Reminder from the National Weather Service: Turn Around, Don't Drown.

Please remind everyone, especially children, to stay away from flood control channels, rivers, streams and other flood-swollen waterways when there is a lot of snow melt or heavy rain runoff, including on sunny days immediately following, or in between, big storms.

When it rains, flood control channels, rivers, streams, and arroyos can quickly fill up with roiling flood water, creating a potentially life-threatening danger to anyone who gets caught in the torrent, or is swept away.  Even if it’s sunny downstream, it may still be raining heavily upstream, sending flash floods downstream.  Be weather wise!

Low head dam rescue training - this is a very dangerous place to be, even for highly trained swiftwater rescue technicians.

In addition to cold water, which can cause hypothermia to develop quickly, making it very difficult for someone to self-rescue, there are other dangerous hazards in flood control channels and other open waterways, including debris, floodwater contamination from toxic chemicals and waste, slippery slopes along the edges and riverbanks, snakes and other dangerous animals in some areas, and deadly low-head dams.

Low-head dams look like fun water slides, but are called “drowning machines,” because the water can churn victims up and over and down until they drown.  Victims are tossed around like laundry in a washing machine.  It is extremely difficult to get yourself out of this unique hydraulic.  Rescue is required, often at great risk to rescue personnel.

Flood control channels, rivers and streams are not a good place to play.

If you fall into the water, there may be NO WAY OUT! Swiftwater rescue is likely the only lifesaving option.

The Cabin John River Rescue team, on call in the Potomac River, Maryland, USA.

Ideally, everyone will heed the warnings to avoid flood control channels, fast-flowing rivers and streams in flooding conditions.  But if someone gets swept away, basic safety knowledge is vital in terms of helping swiftwater rescuers make a rescue.

What Should You Do?

  • Never get into this situation! Stay away from flood control channels and fast moving floodwaters in streams and rivers.

What if You Fall In?

  • Remain calm.  Don’t waste energy yelling for help after you have been spotted by someone.
  • Get ready to be rescued.
  • Try to float on your back with your legs straight and your feet pointed downstream.
  • Use your legs to shove yourself away from obstructions.
  • Keep your head up so that you can see where you are going.
  • Watch for obstacles and debris!  If a tree or other stationary object is blocking the channel, forcing water over it, try to flip over on your stomach and approach the obstacle head-on, crawling over the top of it.  Most free-floating victims, who are being swept downstream in swift water, die when they get pinned against obstacles, or get trapped in submerged debris and vegetation.

Swiftwater rescue teams have special personal protective gear and equipment to use in rescue operations. Do not imagine you can do this unaided if someone you love falls into a roiling river.

What if You See Someone Fall into the Water?

  • Immediately call 9-1-1 (USA), or your local emergency response number! Tell the operator that someone who fell into the channel is being swept downstream and that swiftwater rescue teams need to respond.
  • Give accurate information about where you saw the victim go in, what the victim was wearing, etc.
  • Do not try to pull the victim out with your hands, a rope, or similar device.
  • Do not attach anything to yourself and toss it to a victim in the water.  You will be pulled in by the force of the current.
  • If possible, throw an unattached flotation device to the victim, such as a boogie board, Styrofoam ice chest, or basketball.
  • If a dog or other animal has been swept away, do not try to perform a rescue yourself.  Call swiftwater rescue teams immediately.  Animals can be clever and survive, but many people have lost their lives trying to rescue their pets.  Never allow your dog to run off leash near a fast-flowing river or stream.  For their safety and yours, please keep all animals away from flood control channels, rivers and streams!

Rivers can rise rapidly and unexpectedly. Be mindful of the weather, remain alert, and stay away, stay alive!

Swiftwater rescue is one of the most dangerous of all technical rescue operations performed by fire-rescue teams.  Nearly half of all deaths in swift water are would-be rescuers, including Good Samaritans. By endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of others.

Stay away! Stay alive!

Thanks to photographer Roy Sewall for the Cabin John River Rescue Team photos, and to Travis County EMS.  All rights reserved.

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