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Reefwalker
02-08-2011, 12:26 AM
CHANGE

Change is not only a physical thing we all deal with in our lives, it could be starting a new job, moving to a new home, or our children setting off to their first day of school or college. Change can be an idea, a concept, or a way of thinking.

In the early portion of January of this year I had the opportunity to meet with several firefighters working Tumon Bay and a seed was planted by Captain Dean Soriano. Capt. Soriano knew who I was thru the grapevine on island and came up to me and asked one question: “Hey, Jay. Could you share some of that knowledge on skis?” Quickly I answered:”Sure, when you are ready, I will be.”

A short conversation ensued and we quickly made arrangements for my next day off to work with him and a rescue crew.

As quickly as the plans were made they were cancelled.

Days later on Sunday, January 2, 2011 during a High Surf Warning my cell phone was ringing off every minute. I had taken the day to spend with family and was not on-duty. People were calling in that an outrigger canoe had capsized with its team in Tumon Bay. That meant six paddlers in the surf maybe even more. I started calling people on duty. I kept pacing back and forth as I watched my kids play in the water park. Running the last weather conditions I had read on the internet over in my head, I knew it was bad.

Did everyone make it in? The outrigger paddlers? The ocean lifeguards? The Fire rescue crew? Did the rescue guys make it in time?

I finally gave up on myself. I was doing more damage to myself by standing around waiting for word on my cell phone. I said my goodbyes to friends and family and drove straight to Matapang Beach located at the center of Tumon Bay.

Fire Rescue Units were in place already. R.W.C.’s in the water working the surf and inner breaks. A Fire rescue boat was off shore along with a Coast Guard cutter the USS Assateague. In the air was the U.S. Navy’s ever watchful HSC-25.

Changing into my kit I walked up to the Incident Commander, who happened to be Capt. Dean Soriano who was busy writing notes of radio transmissions on a writing pad. Capt. Soriano quickly gave me an update and my instructions. My R.W.C. was launched and I joined the SAR Operation.

I stayed and helped the Firefighters during the whole operation.

You’re probably asking yourself: Why is he talking about “change” and then talking about a SAR operation? What’s the relationship between change and a SAR operation?

I ended picking up one of the fire guys in the surf on the first day of the operation.

While working the inner breaks, watching the debris lines hoping for the last missing paddler to pop up thru the reef cuts and collecting evidence as I went. From the corner of my eye I spotted one of the R.W.C.'s owned by the Fire Department empty with no operator mounted. Right in the mix of things, two swells were pouring water into the lagoon with nowhere to go but back out. You could see waves going backward towards the fringe reef line. First, thing I thought was: "Who and what the fuck?"

Based on the bow placement I guessed where the operator was. A lucky guess?
About fifteen to twenty feet behind the R.W.C., scanning the water I spot a swift water helmet. The firefighter is floating there. He is not making an effort to swim. Questions run through my mind quickly and methodically from: Is he injured? Is he unconscious? Where’s my bow placement? How far away is he? To the worst, he's not trying to save himself.

So there I go… I went and didn’t think about anything else. I grabbed him on a ‘left hand pick up’ on the first try. I can see his eyes wide open and white in the low light. I talk him thru the pick-up, making sure he is holding on to the stern handhold. As I look up a set is coming in. I can feel his weight at the stern of the R.W.C., he's trying desperately to get on board.

The swell dumps right in front of us...training and experience goes from idle to full throttle.
All in all, word spread fast that I "helped" one of the guys in the surf and picked up their boat to boot.

In the end, “Change” was always present. Movement was ever present. In the water, the current, the wind and in training. I changed from an off-duty police officer to a team player of SAR Group Guam taking instruction from a fire captain during the SAR operation.

Change, came from Capt. Dean Soriano and the rest of the fire rescue crew: John Nededog, Timothy Santos, Patrick Cruz and Roderick Meno, Jo Steven Duenas of the Guam Police Department and Lifeguard Mike Benito in the end. All were willing to think out of the box and hear the K38 Way of training. We all have the ability to adapt to change as human beings. Change is an ever present reality for rescue personnel for every decision made during an operation. For every action there is a reaction. Be it positive or negative.

For K38 Micronesia and the Guam Fire Department, Rescue No.1 rescue crew training did happen later that week after the coined “Black Sunday”. Even after knowing full well that two precious lives were lost, hope and determination was not misplaced by this great group of men willing to sacrifice themselves for another.

With only a day lecture of operator fundamentals and R.W.C. drill sets. Change happened.

It felt exhilarating to see; if you can imagine for a moment five firemen, one police officer and one lifeguard on R.W.C.'s shouting "Clear!" as a team in Tumon Bay.

John San Nicolas
K38 Micronesia “We Are, Who We Save”