KENT, Ohio — What started as a normal evening paddling out on the Cuyahoga River near downtown Kent turned into a rescue mission for white water kayaker Darren Bade.
Bade, who is an associate professor at Kent State University, had been out kayaking the river when he got out to walk his kayak to a different location. As he was walking, he heard shouting, and realized that a mother and child were in the river and in need of help.
According to Kent Fire Chief William Myers, it appeared a little girl had slipped and fallen into the river, and her mother instinctually jumped in after to save her daughter.
“Actually, she saved her baby’s life, really” he said. “She was able to grab onto the baby, they went down the river because it was swift water through there.”
As a seasoned kayaker, Bade said he had just taken a swift water rescue course the year before, and was also familiar with the challenges that section of river posed.
“I’m really familiar with that and have actually assisted a number of other people who’ve had a little bit of trouble there, those examples were ones where I was kind of able to help people out before anything serious happened,” he said.
Bade saw that the mother and child appeared to be stuck at the tip of an island in the middle of the river, surrounded by pieces of wood. He knew those pieces of wood could be dangerous, because of the risk the water could flow through and around them, potentially pushing someone underneath.
“I think someone said it was a child and maybe a mother, then I really double timed it back down to the water,” Bade said. “I could see them floating downstream. It’s a little bit of a blur, I do remember them sort of the getting to the head of the island, still in the water, and I then got in my boat and ferried across over to that island.”
Bade was able to paddle out to the island and carefully walk across the tangle of wood and logs to help the mother and child, at points taking the child from the mother in order to get them up to land. Shortly behind him were two Kent police officers, including Officer Samantha McNulty, who jumped into the river to assist.
“I’m just very grateful that the kayaker was there first, I think he honestly made a huge difference, mom made a huge difference doing CPR, we were able to help from there,” said McNulty, who was able to safely take the child from Bade as he continued to help get the mother out of the water.
Chief Myers said their water rescue team was able to get to scene quickly to get the mom and child safely back to shore. From there, they were taken to the hospital, both were conscious. Myers said his team just recently had water rescue training before this incident.
“About four years ago, we had about 26 rescues in one season there,” Myers said. “This is something that is important for our department to be trained in.”
Since then, Myers said they have cleared out some parts of the river, which decreased the amount of calls. Now, he said the fire department typically gets six to eight calls a year for rescue.
“We have such a beautiful resource here in Kent, Ohio, and I really want people to be able to use that resource and to have fun with it and so forth. But there also needs to be some responsibility on their behalf,” he said. “Making sure you have the knowledge and the expertise when the water is running a little bit faster.”
Myers recommended taking your new equipment or watercraft like kayaks and canoes out to a stagnant water source, like a pond, to practice before heading out to faster moving water like the river.
He also suggested that people should be careful when next to the water and suggested people watch their footing, watch where they’re walking, and watch out for little ones, in addition to making sure people are not going out to spend time by the water by themselves in case they do end up in a situation where they need help.
“Be sure that you’re aware of your surroundings," he said. "Make sure you’re wearing a life jacket, too. I don’t care your level of expertise, I think it’s very important when you’re in rapid water that you have a life jacket on.”
Bade suggested that other boaters and paddlers be aware of what’s going on in the water, and said he was happy to be able to help.
“I feel like in some ways, I think some of the things I’ve seen down there was some of my impetus for wanting to take this rescue training,” he said. “I feel like it paid off, I’m glad I was able to be there.”