Paradise Falls Swiftwater Rescue - Governor General's Commendation
June 18, 1996
On June 18, 1996, 23 year-old Patrick Patenaude fell into the Kootenay River and was unable to escape a swirling swiftwater eddy.

The Beasley Fire Department was called out to attempt a rescue.  Firefighters Patricia Brach, Marja Heymans and Jeff Nykiforuk, Captain Cathy Wickstrom and Chief Tom Brach were the initial responders.  On arrival, they found Patenaude caught in a powerful back eddy about 32 metres from shore, directly above Paradise Falls, a vicious whitewater canyon near West Kootenay Power (now FortisBC) Dam No. 3. 

The force of the water had torn the victim's clothes from him and he was exhausted from the cold and from his repeated efforts to escape the eddy. While several land-based rescue attempts were made by Jeff Nykiforuk, Chief Brach donned a wetsuit and personal floatation device (PFD) and Heymans, Brach and Wickstrom created a lifeline of rope collected from vehicles that had stopped to help.

When it became evident that the exhausted Patenaude was beginning to fail, Brach swam the lifeline and PFD into the eddy. During the retrieval effort, Brach had to separate from the lifeline when the force of the water proved too much for both men to be pulled in at once. He was swept back into the eddy and later swam out to a second line deployed by Jeff Nykiforuk.

Patenaude arrived on shore with no radial pulse and a carotid of just three beats per minute. He was immediately transported to Kootenay Lake District Hospital by BC Ambulance paramedics, where he was treated for hypothermia and kept overnight.

Brach attributes the save to the focus and competency of the entire crew. "Swiftwater rescues are dangerous and totally dependent on team dynamics. Despite lack of resources and incredible pressures, the team functioned flawlessly. A minute lost by any of the five initial responders would have resulted in the loss of Patenaude."

By the time Brach was pulled from the water, twenty-one firefighters from the Beasley, Crescent Valley and Tarry's fire departments were on scene working to help with equipment, stabilization and transport.

This incident, and the realization that the successful rescue could easily have had a tragic outcome for rescuers as well as the victim, became a major impetus in the creation of the Beasley Rescue Society which is dedicated to promoting proper training for this sort of dangerous rescue effort.