BONNERS FERRY — The first responders who played an integral part in the rescue of the two trapped BNSF Railway employees after the train derailed into the Kootenai River, were recognized last Thursday afternoon at the Waterways building.
Boundary County Sheriff Dave Kramer presented each of the first responders with an award certificate and a Sheriff’s Office challenge coin, in front of an audience which included several BNSF employees.
“At BNSF we are a railroad family, and having that relationship that we have with the first responders in Boundary County and throughout North Idaho is tremendous,” said Courtney Wallace, spokeswoman for BNSF Railway. “It is very humbling and it is a wonderful opportunity for us to say thank you to Adam and everybody else who was so instrumental in the rescue or our crew.”
The first award and coin went to Boundary Search and Dive Rescue Team member Adam Reeves, who is also a BNSF employee. Reeves was the first on scene and broke out the window of the mostly submerged locomotive, pulling the trapped crew member out to safety.
“He knew what needed to be done. He didn’t hesitate,” Kramer said, speaking about Reeves during the ceremony. “He gave the crew inside some reassurance, and got them out on top of the locomotive so they could be rescued by the boat crew.”
The rescue award highlighted the actions taken by Reeves and included the sentence: “Your willingness to act potentially saved their lives.”
South Boundary Fire Chief Tony Rohrwasser, who was first on scene along with Reeves, was also recognized, but unable to attend the ceremony.
Next, Kramer recognized the boat crew of Marine 1, which navigated through the dark, treacherous waters, to reach the locomotive and transport the BNSF crew from the top of the locomotive to the safety of shore.
“There was no hesitation in the response. From the callout that you got at home, until you were on scene was just a little over an hour,” said Kramer to the boat crew. “Getting that boat out and launched, and navigation that channel, was remarkable.”
Kramer recognized dive team Vice Commander Pat Bennett, dive team Director Levi Falck, Boundary County Sheriff’s Corporal Clint Randall, and Boundary County Sheriff’s Detective Caleb Watts who made up the crew of Marine 1. Boundary Ambulance Paramedic John Minden was also on the boat but was not able to attend the ceremony. All received a rescue award, challenge coin and handshake from Kramer.
“I really appreciate, not only what all these men did, but everyone throughout that whole incident, our first responders, all of our volunteer firefighters, our paramedics, the railroad employees that came out that night — it was just one team, regardless of what agency or private agency was responding,” said Kramer. “I think that really made a difference in the outcome overall.”
North Bench Fire Chief Gus Jackson and Paradise Valley Fire Chief Mike Glazier were in attendance, and were instrumental in their part as Unified Command during the incident.
“It was a great overall accomplishment. Nobody got hurt — that was a great thing. Everybody came home that night,” said Jackson. “You guys did an outstanding job rescuing somebody — so good job. It was a successful incident.”
As the ceremony drew to a close, one of the BNSF employees asked if he could say a few words.
“I can’t say thanks enough for your guys’ efforts rescuing those guys. You got to think about what is going through those employees’ minds. They don’t really know that anybody is coming,” said BNSF Division Engineer Jeremy VanPelt. “Thanks on behalf of BNSF railway. I appreciate you guys ... I really do.”
Despite the ceremony in their honor, the rescuers remained humble, speaking mostly of their teammates.
“Under an enormous amount of pressure, stress, and adrenaline, it is amazing to be part of a team that trains regularly and executes a successful rescue,” said BSDRT Director Levi Falck.
BSDRT Vice Commander Pat Bennett credited the successful rescue to the many hours that he and the others spent in training.
“It feels good to know that I was part of a positive outcome and to know that all the training and hard work myself and others with Search and Dive Rescue continually work on helps us be able to be a successful team,” said Bennett. “The hard work and training allow us to respond to a situation such as this derailment and to have the know-how and confidence to pull off such a rescue. Also the continual training and coordination with the other local agencies was crucial to the mission success.”