Posted by: njrigg | May 20, 2012

International Swiftwater Rescue Outstanding Achievement Award to be Presented to Shannon Crofton

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:

Reproduced with permission



  1. An amazing amount of work has gone into this program and all of the techs that have benefitted from his hard work are so proud he has been recognized at such a high level.

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