In the fire and rescue service, positive outcomes after emergencies are rare — although treasured when they occurred.
Two South King Fire and Rescue firefighters recently received the Medal of Valor honor from the department for their exceptional efforts and successful water rescue of a female victim last October.
Firefighters Greg Graka and Dean Bastin were recognized at South King’s fire commissioner meeting on Aug. 27.
“The performance that occurred that night was absolutely incredible,” incoming fire Chief Vic Pennington told the Medal of Valor awardees. “The work that you and your partner did absolutely did save this woman’s life and gave her a second chance. Second chances don’t come around often.”
Capt. Mike Lawson, who was the acting battalion chief on shift the night of Oct. 28, shared the rescue story at the meeting while showing footage from the actual rescue scene, captured by Evergreen Media Production.
On Oct. 28, 2018, SKFR crews took action when a woman drove her car into Puget Sound via the Redondo Beach boat launch around 7:30 p.m.
The driver was reported to have parked her car on the boat ramp and after a period of time, rolled down her window and drove into the Sound, Capt. Jeff Bellinghausen, community affairs officer for South King Fire and Rescue, previously told the Mirror.
Units arrived to find a Des Moines police officer in the water with a citizen attempting a rescue; the car was located approximately 150 feet out from shore and 15 feet underwater.
South King initiated their rescue process and firefighter Garka was the first rescue swimmer deployed that night.
Garka located the vehicle, which was found upside down, and confirmed a female passenger was in the front seat.
“With the water conditions and the current, he wasn’t able to bring her up by himself,” Lawson told the packed room at the commissioner’s meeting.
Firefighter Dean Bastin was the second rescue swimmer deployed.
“Together they were able to make entry into the vehicle and remove the female from the driver’s seat and bring her to shore,” Lawson explained.
Once on shore, the unconscious and unresponsive patient, who was in her 20s, was successfully resuscitated by medic crews and she was transported to Harborview, Lawson said.
Garka and Bastin then reentered the water with assistance from another rescue swimmer, Jake Jones, to perform a secondary search to verify there were no additional victims inside the vehicle.
“This was definitely a group effort between a lot of different agencies,” Lawson said, noting crews from South King, the Des Moines Police Department, King County Medic, and dive teams from Renton and Valley fire departments also responded.
“However, there is no doubt in my mind that the action of those [first] two rescue swimmers is what made the difference between a patient being rescued and resuscitated, versus the divers making a recovery a little down the road,” Lawson continued.
Having the right people in the right place at the right time with the right training makes all the difference, Lawson said.
Bastin, who has been with the department for nearly four years, and Garka, who has been with South King for six years, are both trained rescue swimmers.
“For me, it’s very humbling,” Bastin said of watching the footage from the rescue. “When I was out there, I was doing my job and doing what I was trained for. It’s a great honor to get the medal from the department, but all in all, I feel like I was just doing my job.”
South King has 24 trained rescue swimmers dispersed across the district.
South King’s rescue swimmers complete 30 hours of initial training for certification through a combination of pool and open water scenarios. Rescue swimmers complete an additional 10 hours of training annually for recertification.
“I feel like it’s part of what we do, it’s what we prepared for,” Garka said. “We shouldn’t be surprised when we’re asked to use our training, even the specialized training.”
On video, the rescue seems much slower than in actuality, but Garka recalls his whizzing thought process moments before arriving on the scene.
“As you’re on your way down, you’re thinking about all of the boxes that you need to check to make sure you’re jumping into the water prepared,” he said. “Then you’re thinking about all the things we’ve trained for … obviously your heart’s beating a little quicker than a normal call.”
Nearly 10 months later, the firefighters had the uncommon opportunity to meet and speak with the patient.
“We don’t get to meet a lot of the people we interact with post-incident,” Bastin said. “It’s actually very nice to be able to meet them, and it’s just as much of an honor for us to meet them as I think for them to meet us.”
Garka echoed Bastin’s sentiments and commended the patient for her courage to attend the commissioner meeting.
“It’s really very brave of her to show up here,” Garka said. “It’s really cool to see a positive outcome of one of the patients we’ve had.”