May 12, 2014

Ocracoke’s chief lifeguard is among the
NPS employees recognized for valor

By IRENE NOLAN

Heroic National Park Service employees and partners who risked their lives to assist others in need were recognized Friday in Washington, D.C., at the Department of the Interior’s 69th Honor Awards Convocation.

Among them was Don Hutson, chief lifeguard at the Ocracoke Swim Beach in Cape Hatteras National Seashore, who helped rescue five swimmers caught in rip tides. He personally towed four of the swimmers to shore through 100-plus yards of strong current and surf.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell presented Valor Awards to 17 employees who demonstrated unusual courage in the face of danger. She also presented the Citizen’s Award for Bravery to three private citizens who risked their lives to save others while on Department of the Interior lands.

“These heroes rappelled from helicopters, scaled cliffs, swam through rapids, and protected park visitors from hazards,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “They put their own lives in peril to help others. Yet, each one of them would humbly say they were simply doing their jobs. Their passion to serve others is inspiring.”

Hutson’s recognition comes at an interesting time for the National Park Service.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore superintendent Barclay Trimble announced last fall that lifeguard services from Memorial Day to Labor Day at three seashore beaches, including Ocracoke, would be eliminated because of budget cuts.

Currently, Trimble is trying to reinstate the service Monday through Friday via a contractor.  

Hyde County’s commissioners have agreed to pay an additional estimated $10,000 for weekend coverage of Ocracoke’s lifeguarded beach.  Dare County’s commissioners have not signed on for coverage of beaches on Bodie Island and at Buxton.

In addition to Hutson, the persons recognized were:

  • Park Ranger Margaret Anderson of Mount Rainier (Washington) was honored posthumously. She was shot and killed while preventing a heavily armed assailant from reaching a popular area of the park.
  • Park Rangers Jack Corrao and Philip Johnson from Kings Canyon National Park (California) ascended a 1,300-foot sheer rock wall to rescue a severely injured fallen climber. Despite the danger of rock fall, extreme vertical exposure, and climbing an un-scouted route, Carrao and Johnson reached the climber, secured him to the wall, stabilized his injuries, and performed a short-haul helicopter rescue.
  • Bradley Griest, a park ranger at Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee), and Christopher Scarbrough, a volunteer with the Town of Townsend Fire Department, rescued a barely conscious motorist trapped in a partially submerged vehicle in the Little River. They winched open the door against the strong current, freed the driver, secured him to a litter, and lifted him up a steep embankment to an ambulance.
  • Jeremie Johnston and Danielle Sandoval of Joshua Tree National Park (California) investigated smoke on the horizon and came upon a plane crash. The pilot had ejected and was injured but the fire prevented access to him. Sandoval and Johnson put out the fire and administered first aid.
  • Jessica Keller of Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada) saved the life of her dive partner who suffered an equipment malfunction. He experienced a full-body, oxygen-induced grand mal seizure that left him unconscious. Keller executed a rapid emergency ascent with her partner to a depth of 70 feet where she inflated his buoyancy control device to get him to the surface.  If not for her skilled, purposeful and quick response to the accident, her partner would have died.
  • Park Ranger Henry Lachowski from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan) ventured into rough water twice to locate and rescue a missing swimmer. He made every effort to save the swimmer but even advanced life support measures were unsuccessful.
  • Park Ranger Peter Maggio from Mount Rainier National Park (Washington) responded to an accident where the driver of a sport utility vehicle fell asleep, drove off the road, down an embankment, and came to rest upside down in four feet of fast moving and cold water. Maggio struggled against the force of the river to enter the vehicle, cut the seat belt to free the driver, and lead him through the water to safety.
  • Therese Picard and Craig Thexton of Zion National Park (Utah) came to the aid of a canyoneer who lost control while rappelling. They found him upside down, falling out of his harness. They helped rig a line that lowered them 200 feet to the injured man. They wrapped webbing around him to create a harness and got him to a place where all three could be pulled to safety.
  • Jeffrey Pirog, David Pope, Eric Small, and Jeffrey Webb of Yosemite National Park (California) were joined by Richard Shatto, the pilot of Yosemite helicopter 551 for Kachina Aviation, for the rescue of an injured climber on El Capitan. The climber’s thumb had been severed in a fall but luckily was found on a nearby ledge. To increase the chance of successfully reattaching the thumb, the rescue crew chose to try an advanced and experimental rescue technique that meant the helicopter had to hover in close proximity to the wall while Ebb and Pope were suspended from the helicopter. Their quick actions made it possible for doctors to reattach the thumb at a hospital.
  • Park Ranger Bradley Ross from Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming) witnessed a significant avalanche that resulted in a 30-foot high roadblock. Ross directed 25 vehicles with visitors out of the danger zone, searched for possible victims, coordinated the responding units, and initiated a road closure. His situational awareness, experience and judgment prevented serious, if not fatal, consequences as three other large avalanches occurred within 20 minutes.
  • Mark Allee of the California Conservation Corps came across five hikers attempting to cross the partially submerged Wapama Falls Bridge in Yosemite National Park (California). Water was flowing at twice its normal rate due to a tremendous rain storm. Two of the hikers proceeded against Allee’s warnings and were knocked down by the current. Despite Allee’s valiant efforts to save them, the hikers were swept away to their deaths.

“It is gratifying to be part of a team that is able to help people in their time of need,” said Valor Award recipient Jack Corrao. “Every rescue is the result of an effort that includes everyone on the scene but also extends beyond that to those who train us, practice with us, equip us, and support us, including our families. They help us so that we can help others.”



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