Monday, December 28, 2009

The Deminishing Desire to Help

I patiently braced myself, pinched between the rock and the current. An occasional surge washed water over my head. Distracted by the din of rushing water, I did not notice them until they had already passed. I prefer to catch their attention early, so as not to alarm them. It was too late for this crew, though, they had seen me first.

I can only imagine what they must have thought. Below me, my canoe was wrapped on a rock. The green end of the Coleman sticking up into the air, and me, face down and half submerged.

In 1996, a man had drowned in almost this exact location. He too had wrapped a canoe. And as he swam past it, his shoelaces became snagged on the boat. He was entrapped and unable to free himself.

I did not want to impose this on others. I know what it is like to be falsely elevated into emergency. I had set this scenario up for training. The participants were in the parking lot, still out of site, waiting for the whistle blast to come to the rescue.

I watched, though, as this crew, continued to float past me, nearly hitting the canoe with their oars.

They must have seen me. I was only a few feet away. Yet they had passed, as if my boat and I were nothing more than additional obstacles to avoid.

At least, I thought, I did not alarm them. But what if I had been in trouble? Would they have stopped?

Perhaps this group knew that this was a scenario. It is one of our frequent teaching sites. Maybe they saw me as I scrambled out into the current to set it up. Or maybe they saw the participants, not as out of site as I had thought. I do not know.

However, after teaching these classes for the past ten years, and being a boater for over twenty, this story is indicative of an observed trend. As the river community grows in numbers, the awareness of others diminishes.

When I first began teaching, nearly every boater that passed, stopped. They would ask if I was alright and if I needed a ride back to shore. But as time has passed, those encounters have become fewer. And now it seems like the only boats that stop are the well-used ones, with grizzled, squinty-eyed captains. Newer boats, with shiny frames and composite oars tend to pass by, determined to continue their float.

Perhaps this trend is due to the fact that people new to the river lack confidence and experience, and just don’t know what to do. It could be, too, that people choose to stay out of the way. Maybe they believe that someone else will take care of the problem. There are endless possibilities.

No matter what the cause is, though, this is a concerning trend.

In 2008, my brother-in-law sat wet, shoeless and without a boat on the shore of the Colorado. Numerous boats passed by, including his own group. Not one of them stopped. Somehow he ended up back in the water, but by the time help came, it was too late.

As community members we need to spot this trend, stop, and change it before it is too late.

1 comment:

Al said...

I, too, share in your observations and in the undertone of alarm described in your articles “Diminishing Desire” and “Where to draw the line”.
I came across your blog while searching for archived conversations from the boating community regarding views and opinions on commercial outfitters self imposing requirements for their guides to complete a certified/accredited River Rescue training course prior to employment.
As I write this, I can't help but feel that these two subjects aren't intertwined a little.
Rafting and white water boating in particular are still young enough that we can remember the generation just ahead of us (maybe our parents and uncles) standing next to their Army surplus or bucket boats. Many are shirtless, tanned and sporting cut-off levi’s. You would have to look hard to even spot a PFD. Most have smiles on their faces, and why not. A true adventure. Unencumbered by State and Federal permit systems, no fees or time limits, just free to float down the river. Nobody even had a clue as to what they were up to. These are the boaters who made many first descents, innovated our gear, started outfitting operations, published guide books, and went on to make guiding a legitimate profession.
But as society and exposure to new sports moves at a much faster pace now, often out pacing a safe learning curve. So too, is the growth in private boating and in the expedited rise of commercial guides. And it appears many fundamental skills are getting left out, never learned, or not passed down. The old quiche’ of “what doesn't kill you makes you stronger” seems to apply here. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be allot of us getting stronger.
Which brings me back to my original point here and my somewhat fuzzy connection. Outfitters requiring river rescue certification of their river guides. I am not referring to having guides licensed, just qualified.
With the average guiding career being no longer than four seasons ( I am guessing). Are, our newer commercial guides receiving the base foundation in River Rescue skills that they deserve? I am speaking mainly- West of the Rockies, where we seem to have allot more wilderness sections, and the West’s still deep rooted views of “don’t impose your laws on us” attitude.
I know this is a multi-layered and potentially loaded question- So I’ll get more specific here.

-With the recently improved curriculum and more practicality of swift water rescue courses being offered. Should these certificates be recognized across the board?
-What constitutes an accredited SWR program?
-Can you now still call yourself a guide in the modern industry with no certifications, except fore-say your Red Cross/CPR card in your back pocket? I am not implying that because you have completed a SWR course, that you actually retained any of the skills. But feel we need to start with a base line somewhere here.
-If the outfitter is not in a position nor willing to pay for the guides SWR course, or have the means to teach it in-house, is it ethically correct to pass this training on to the guides to incur?
-As part of personal growth and development, wouldn't guides want to continually pursue and increase their knowledge base and certifications?
-Can we safely say we have said good by to the American Red Cross’s first aid courses (videos) instructing us to call “911”. And say hello to NOL’s WMI or the equivalent as the new standard?

I understand many of these questions have already been answered for us through State and Federal legislation. And are continuing to evolve. Just or unjust.

I also revel in the fact that for the most part, it is still up to the individual outfitter to decide what is best for their unique operation and the caliber of guides that their seeking out or willing to train. Wether they choose to meet minimum licensing standards or exceed them.

I would be curious to hear some other views on any of this.