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Jan. 28, 2023

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Clark County Fire District 6 firefighters honored for river rescue

They came to aid of Portland rafter on Washougal River

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter

Three Clark County Fire District 6 firefighters were honored Tuesday night for their roles in a dangerous rescue of a rafter on the Washougal River this spring.

The ceremony at Station 61, 8800 N.E. Hazel Dell Ave., recognized members of the district’s Technical Rescue Team — Capt. Scott Johns and Firefighters Bill Dunlap and Tony Lothspeich. They were some of more than a dozen emergency officials who responded around 8:15 p.m. May 4 to the river at the 38700 block of Northeast Washougal River Road after reports of a woman screaming for help.

They arrived to find Emily McCauley, 28, of Portland submerged up to her neck with her legs pinned beneath the rapidly moving water, according to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. The two-hour rescue rendered McCauley unconscious, and she was taken to a local hospital for treatment.

After she regained consciousness the next day, McCauley told deputies that she had been floating with Stephen Barnaby, 30, of Portland, on the “big eddy” on separate inner tubes near Milepost 8 of Washougal River Road, according to the sheriff’s office. The rafters were swept into the fast-moving current and fell off their tubes.

McCauley told deputies that she remembered seeing Barnaby float by her when she became trapped, the sheriff’s office said. After a search that included multiple unmanned aircraft, ground searchers and underwater cameras, the search for Barnaby was suspended two days after the incident.

Washougal Police Officer Francis Reagan was the first to arrive on the scene and spent nearly 40 minutes in the frigid water rescuing McCauley. He was given the district’s fire medal.

After the ceremony, Reagan recounted being unable to free McCauley’s leg from between two boulders in the rapid current as she began to lose strength. Eventually, it would take several responders with the help of a rope to free her.

“I pulled with all of my might as long as I could,” Reagan said. “It was just a really difficult situation with the current so strong.”

Dunlap was given a Certificate of Exemplary Performance. Lothspeich was given the Meritorious Service Medal. Johns was awarded the Medal of Valor.

“When you see a call of this magnitude, usually the outcome is not what we’d like,” Dunlap said. “This is what we like to see. That’s why we do it.”

Some who responded to the rescue were not present at the ceremony, and not all could be formally awarded due to differing polices between agencies, Assistant Fire Chief Kristan Maurer said.

“Tonight we formally recognize the efforts by Clark County Fire District 6 personnel and civilians,” Maurer said. “We do not diminish the team aspect of this rescue and will be in attendance to support the recognition from other departments.”

Columbian county government and small cities reporter