By Rick Palsgrove
Fast work by a camp counselor and local firefighters saved an 11-year-old boy from drowning in the swollen flood waters of Walnut Creek.
According to Madison Township Fire Department Battalion Chief Drew Pruden, on the early afternoon of July 14, the boy, who was attending a kids summer camp program at Walnut Woods Metro Park near Groveport, got too close to the flooded creek. The creek was running fast and high due to recent torrential rains and the boy got caught in the swift current and swept away.
“A woman camp counselor saw the creek take him away and she jumped in the water, swam over to him, and grabbed him,” said Pruden. “She and the boy then grabbed onto a log jam of debris in the creek and held on.”
(Officials did not release the name of the rescued boy. The camp counselor who worked to save the boy declined a request to be interviewed.)
Pruden said firefighter rescue units from Madison Township, Rickenbacker, and Columbus arrived on the scene quickly.
“We got a boat in the fast moving water (from Columbus Station 4),” said Pruden. “The water was really going. It’s not an easy rescue operation.”
He said rescuers reached the woman and the boy and anchored the boat to the debris. They then put life jackets on the woman and boy and got them out of the water.
“We arrived at 1:23 p.m. and had them on shore by 2:05 p.m.,” said Pruden. “The woman counselor who jumped in to save the boy showed amazing effort. She was willing to take a risk. She made a difference.”
Metro Parks Deputy Director Larry Peck praised the camp counselor’s actions.
“Through her selfless efforts a bad situation did not develop into a tragedy, which it is easily could have. She was heroic in what she did. Kudos also go to the camper who did not panic. The boy showed remarkable poise,” said Peck. “Also, a quick, professional and highly effective response by other Metro Parks staff and firefighters from Madison Township, Columbus, and Rickenbacker were instrumental in this not becoming a tragedy.”
Peck said Metro Parks officials conducted an investigation of the incident.
“A bad decision was made to allow campers in floodwaters at Walnut Woods for a number of reasons,” said Peck. “We will address that appropriately internally and take a number of steps to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future. It has never happened in the past to my knowledge at any of our camps. Wanting our campers to have a great experience can never supercede safety.”
Pruden said one problem rescuers run into in such water rescue situations is finding a place through trees and thick underbrush to launch the boat into the water.
“There’s not a boat dock,” said Pruden. “We carry the boat to the best spot we can find.”
Pruden said much training goes into any type of water rescue and using a boat in swift moving water is difficult because any minor mishap could put the rescue crew in trouble.
“There have been several rescue attempts around the states where the team had capsized and had drowned or experienced near drowning,” said Pruden. “Because it is so hazardous we always have a second boat staged. Often rescuers are in danger, too. Fortunately in this case we had a happy ending.”
Pruden cautioned people to always be wary of floodwaters.
“People underestimate the power of flood water,” said Pruden. “I’ve seen floodwaters easily wash away cars. It’s truly deceiving. The water can overpower you so quickly.”