Bystanders quickly stepped in and saved a man on the Cowichan River on Canada Day. (file)

Column: Heroes should be recognized

I find it reassuring that people still have each others’ backs

I’m a cynic at heart.

I’ve been reporting for newspapers for most of my working life and, in that capacity, I’ve learned that self interest is a primary motivating factor behind many people’s actions.

That’s why I’m always pleasantly surprised when people go out of their way, sometimes even putting their own lives at risk, to help complete strangers.

A case in point was the dramatic rescue on the Cowichan River on Canada Day of a 46-year-old man on a raft who inadvertently found himself wedged underneath a fallen log and unable to get his head above the fast-moving water.

Fortunately for the man, there were people — Victoria’s Melissa Ollsin, her husband Charles Appleford, their kids, and friends Luis Soto and Mark Guy — nearby at the time, and they sprang immediately into action.

Soto managed to pull the man’s head above the water for a few seconds at a time to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and keep him breathing while Appleford was working to free the man’s body from under the log.

Guy, other members of the group, and people passing by also quickly got involved in the rescue attempt and were eventually successful in finally getting the now unconscious man out of the water.

Thanks to the efforts of these people, who were unknown to the rescued man, he was fully resuscitated before being taken to Cowichan District Hospital and later released.

A similar, but more tragic, incident occurred in Nanaimo a number of years ago in which an elderly man in his car plunged down an embankment adjacent to the Pearson Bridge in the city’s downtown core and ended up in the Millstone River.

Four passing motorists who saw the accident ran to the edge of the river and, when they saw the car was sinking fast and the driver was unconscious, immediately jumped into the water with all their clothes on in a desperate bid to save the man.

It was February during an unusually brisk winter, so the water was frigid.

But the men, all of whom were strangers to each other at the time, continued to dive after the sinking car in fruitless efforts to rescue the elderly driver.

The doors of the car were jammed, so they used rocks from the beach to try and smash the windows out of the car to extradite the driver before the vehicle went fully under the water.

While unsuccessful in their efforts, they kept diving after the car long after it had sunk and there was little, if any, hope of rescuing the man.

They only gave up their efforts when rescue personnel arrived and they had to be whisked away in an ambulance to be taken to the hospital and treated for hypothermia.

Apparently, even though their own conditions were quickly worsening in the cold water of the river, they insisted that they keep trying to save the man, but were finally ordered to the ambulances by the police and rescue crews that had just arrived.

I recall reports that one of the men was in tears when it finally became clear there was nothing more they could do to help the driver.

Needless to say, those men eventually received medals in recognition of their heroism that day.

I was actually touched deep down by the incident.

I find it reassuring that people still have each others’ backs in a world where I’ve, unfortunately, gained enough life experience not to expect such altruistic actions from others, in most cases anyway.

And I also think those who were involved in the rescue of the man on the Cowichan River on Canada Day should be considered for medals.

Such actions that people do for each other should always be recognized and encouraged.