Record-Courier, Kent, Ohio
Jul. 20—Overconfidence coupled with high and fast water kept the Portage County Water Rescue Team busy Sunday, with five incidents and eight reported victims.
“They were pretty scary there for awhile,” said Kent Fire Chief John Tosko on Monday, adding that some victims were able to rescue themselves and he believes that any injuries were minor.
Tosko said the “worst one” was the final incident during the early evening because it had the greatest chance of loss of life to both the victim and rescuers. A man and woman were in a canoe that apparently capsized about 300 yards north of the West Main Street bridge in Kent. The man was able to get to shore, but the woman grabbed a tree.
“She was barely able to hang on when they got there, our guys said,” said Tosko. “So one of our guys jumped into the water and swam over to her, but they both got knocked downstream and then he finally swam to shore farther downstream closer to the [West Main Street] dam.”
The woman, however, was still in the water in an area where the banks were steep, but more rescuers arrived from an earlier call and were able to pull her out just north of the bridge at a spot where the city is constructing a boat launch.
“The guys really had to improvise,” he said “They ended up swimming downstream and hanging onto her and getting to the point farther down the stream. There are some spots where they were able to get to shore there…Our guys just did a fantastic job. They put their lives at risk. [Kent Firefighter] Scott Craig deserves to be singled out because he jumped in the water knowing how dangerous it was but he saw the lady about ready to go under.”
Tosko said the mistake the man and woman made was using a canoe.
“Which is like the very worst craft you can have in waters like that,” he said. “It’s just really unstable for water like that. A kayak is smaller, you can control it better, and a canoe is really easily tipped.”
But even kayaks, and inner tubes for that matter, did not spare some people on the day after heavy rains swelled the river.
At 12:18 p.m., the first call of the day came in when a male in a kayak became marooned on an island just south of West Main Street and the dam and needed to be rescued with a boat. Tosko said he is uncertain how it happened, but suspects it was due to a common occurrence.
“All the time they go through that shoot next to the dam and they lose it there and usually overturn. It pushes you forward so quickly,” said Tosko, adding that he suspects the kayak continued on without the man.
“It usually gets wrapped around a tree downstream,” Tosko said, noting that the man was not wearing a life vest.
“That’s a big deal right there, not wearing a life vest,” he said.
The call took a little over an hour to clear and the team got an approximately 90-minute respite before it was reported that a man had popped out of the inner tube he was in at around the point where Middlebury Road crosses over the river at about 4:06 p.m. Tosko, however, said the man was able to quickly pull himself to shore.
“They found the tube down in Munroe Falls,” he said.
Then at 6:02 p.m., it was back to West Main Street where another male kayaker also became marooned on an island there and was similarly rescued.
At 7:05 p.m., a call came in that a boat with four people in it was sinking in the river in West Branch State Park, but the team was called off after everyone was able to make it to shore on their own. It was while the team was returning that the call for the woman in the tree was made at 7:28 p.m. That situation wrapped up at 8:17 p.m., close to eight hours after the first call.
Tosko said that while the river waters were starting to come down, they were dangerously high and fast on Sunday and even on Monday were still something of a concern. To avoid another day like Sunday, Tosko urged on behalf of the water rescue team that people be more cautious.
“People think their skill level is better than it is and normally, if they can go down the river on a slow day, they think they can have more fun and handle the water on a day like [Su and they can’t,” he said. “So we are putting signs up to warn people, please stay off the water for the next couple days and let it come back down to more normal. That’s all we ask.”
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at email@example.com.
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