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PUC Students Honored by Red Cross for Water Rescue

Larry Pena, October 15, 2009
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The American Red Cross honored three Pacific Union College students this week for their heroic actions in an aquatic rescue this summer at Leoni Meadows, a Seventh-day Adventist campground in Northern California. Matt Freedman and brothers Robert and Nolan Negrete, who worked as counselors at the Adventist campground this summer, saved another counselor from drowning at the nearby Cosumnes River. The three, along with other counselors who were involved, were given awards at a ceremony in Sacramento, California, on October 13.

The incident occurred the first week of the summer, when several of the counselors had the afternoon off and decided to go for a swim at the local river. Finding what appeared to be a good natural rock slide, they soon discovered that a strong current at the base was sucking the water down under a nearby rock. One counselor tried to avoid the current but was pulled under, and despite being a trained lifeguard, was unable to fight his way back to the surface.

"We were just kind of awestruck at first," says Matt. "The rest of us were crying out to God and praying."

Robert and several others tried unsuccessfully to reach down to the drowning counselor from the rocks above. By the time Matt had found a stick long enough to reach, the counselor had been under for over a minute and had lost consciousness. Two other counselors began diving under the back side of the rock, and after several dives found his limp body wedged into the rock, held by the current. Working together, the rescuers were able to pull the counselor out of the water and began CPR to revive him as Matt and another counselor began running for the nearest cell phone service area to call 911.

Miraculously, the counselor woke up after only a few sets of compressions, and Matt discovered that he was getting five bars near the river where there had been no cell service at all earlier that day. By the time the paramedics arrived, the counselor was starting to come out of his daze, and was able to walk to the ambulance. After a precautionary one-night stay in the hospital, the counselor was back at the camp the next day with little more than cuts and bruises.

Most of the counselors had just taken their camp-required CPR classes the day before the incident, and everyone involved was amazed at the unlikely cell phone service in the area, as well as the fact that the counselor had lodged underwater in an accessible spot instead of getting pulled further down or being swept downstream. "Always trust in God," says Robert. "He'll make whatever needs to happen, happen."

Selected as Red Cross National Heroes, the students received the Good Samaritan award at the Sacramento Sierra Chapter of the American Red Cross "Hometown Heroes" awards ceremony on October 13. The students were also interviewed at the Channel 3 newsroom in Sacramento.