Seattle City Light’s Boundary Dam Rescue Squad got to test their skills in real life on Sunday, May 26, when they came to the aid of a group of boaters whose canoe capsized in the swollen Pend Oreille River.
The Pend Oreille Sheriff’s Office received a call of a boating accident at 9 a.m. An aluminum canoe with three passengers had tipped over in the historic Metaline Falls, a narrow and fast part of the river flanked by high cliffs.
Brad Larson, senior warehouser at Boundary, leader of the Boundary Rescue Squad and a member of the Pend Oreille County Fire Protection District No. 2 volunteer fire department, responded to a page shortly after the incident. He rounded up Ironworker Randy Holter and Machinist Crew Chief Larry “Bear” Holter, two other members of the squad, and his wife Liz Larson, who also serves with the fire department.
The four, along with boat operator Jeff Macarthur, a hydro maintenance worker, rode to the accident location. They found two women and a man shivering near the river bank, back in their canoe after being assisted by another private boat that arrived minutes earlier. The three boaters, who wore life vests, spent about 20 minutes in 56-degree water before getting to shore.
“We made sure everybody was accounted for, then got them on the boat and brought them over to the recreational area near the dam, where they met with an ambulance,” Brad Larson said. “They all had a case of mild hypothermia, but they didn’t need to be transported to the hospital.”
It was a good ending to a dangerous experience. The Pend Oreille River is currently flowing at 70,000 cubic feet per second, nearly at full flood stage. By comparison, the daytime flow at Niagara Falls is about 100,000 cubic feet per second.
City Light maintains and trains a specialized rescue team to allow the utility to respond to emergencies on or near Boundary Dam, and to aid the Pend Oreille County authorities with water and high-angle rope rescues. The 12-member team consists of Larson, Randy and Bear Holter, Jeff Young, Rick Reiber, Dan Smith, Jonathan Currey, Gary Johnson, Mitch Langley, Jared Campbell, David Cox and Marcus Wright.