North San Juan Fire Department to offer free life jackets, hosts river awareness open house |

North San Juan Fire Department to offer free life jackets, hosts river awareness open house

Earlier this month, North San Juan firefighters were among those honored for their role in responding to a drowning accident involving a 6-year-old boy at Bridgeport.

While that incident did not end with a positive outcome — the boy was resuscitated and flown to UC Davis Medical Center, but died the next day — firefighters from the fire protection district chose to look ahead and promote river safety with a life-jacket giveaway.

The North San Juan Fire Department and Firefighters Association will be giving away life jackets for children of all ages noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30, at Fire Station 3 (13200 Tyler Foote Road), according to spokesman Christoffer Montelius. Light refreshments will be provided and firefighters will offer station tours and engine demonstrations.

“In an effort to prevent drowning and increase the number of children wearing proper safety equipment, firefighters are launching a campaign to give away life jackets,” Montelius said. “Although this event falls at the end of the river season, future efforts may include weekend events at river crossings during peak months. Firefighters hope to raise awareness about river danger, wearing proper life-saving equipment in the water, and providing gear so that all families have access.”

The giveaway event comes in the wake of two recent drownings of children at the South Yuba River, Montelius said — that of the 6-year-old in May and the 2013 death of 12-year-old Keegan Carovich. Carovich’s mother will be attending the event and will make a presentation about her son and the importance of life jackets.

“All jackets will be fitted by the firefighters, so plan on your child being weighed and measured for height,” Montelius said. “Sizes are available from infant to teen, but supplies are limited. All are welcome to attend.”

North San Juan Fire Battalion Chief Boyd Johnson noted that the district serves four extremely popular river crossings — Bridgeport, Highway 49, Purdon and Edwards — as well as Highway 49 at Oregon Creek, and Tyler-Foote Crossing on the middle fork.

“North San Juan has a long history of dealing with accidents at the river,” Johnson said, calling the Yuba “lovely but treacherous.”

Keeping visitors safe at the river is a growing challenge, he added, saying that he is seeing more out-of-towners who don’t understand the Yuba is a wild, cold river, especially in the spring.

“River calls are pretty labor-intensive,” Johnson said. “None of us have the resources to take care of everything, which can involve hiking up and carrying someone out, or arranging for helicopter transfer. The town departments provide four people and we supplement that with about the same, and that’s often barely what it takes to deal with a situation.”

The May 31 rescue was complicated by the fact that in the middle of that incident, North San Juan was dispatched to a second call, for a head injury after a fall, Johnson noted.

Penn Valley Fire Capt. Clayton Thomas nominated North San Juan, Penn Valley, California State Parks, Cal Fire, and Calstar staff for the response to that drowning, and the agencies were recognized by Sierra-Sacramento Valley Emergency Medical Services Agency at a Penn Valley Fire Protection District board meeting Aug. 5.

The combined efforts of all three agencies and their personnel led to a resuscitation and subsequent extrication, by hiking, of the patient from the water’s edge, a half-mile down a rugged trail, to the waiting EMS helicopter, Thomas wrote in his nomination.

“The amazing level of teamwork shown in this incident exemplifies the qualities of teamwork and mission-mindedness that we hold so important in EMS,” he concluded.

To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email or call 530-477-4229.

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