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First responders are essentially always on duty – even when they’re on vacation. Scott Allen of the Minot Fire Department found that out firsthand on a recent trip to California.
Allen is originally from Jacksonville, Fla. He and his wife chose to remain in Minot following his time as a bomber mechanic in the United States Air Force. He’s been a member of the Minot Fire Department for three years.
On vacation in California in early July, Allen helped rescue a family member during what was otherwise a day of lazily floating down the American River on a large raft with a group of nine people.
“We were stopping at islands every once in a while to let the kids swim. About our third stop, we got out and we were all kind of watching the kids get ready. My wife’s sister was the only one looking at the river where my brother-in-law’s wife was starting to float away a little bit. At first, we thought she was swimming so it was OK. It took us a few seconds to realize she was in trouble,” Allen said.
Hanh Nguyen, the woman rescued, is married to Allen’s brother-in-law. She sent a letter to the Minot Fire Department to recognize Allen for his heroic efforts that day on the American River near Citrus Heights, Calif.
The situation on the river escalated quickly, she said.
“While everyone was exploring the area, I decided to take a short swim with my life jacket on. The water current quickly took me out further than I expected or was ready for. I tried to swim back to the raft, but everything just kept moving further and further away,” she wrote in her letter. “I started panicking when I felt my muscles giving up and I couldn’t swim anymore. The river was full of people rafting that day but I don’t think anyone realized that I was waving for help. However, Scott saw the danger I was in and immediately jumped in the water.”
Allen attributes his quick reaction to his training as a firefighter.
“Once I realized she was in trouble, I just went in. At first, she was like 20 or 30 yards away. By the time I got to her, we were probably 70 yards away,” Allen said. “When I got to her, we tried swimming back, but she was too tired to help so I decided we needed to swim to the side because the current was too strong to go against it. There was a little piece of rock that we were able to get to and hang onto. Then everyone else got back on the raft and rushed to pull us out of the water.”
The incident happened quickly.
“We were probably only out there for maybe two minutes, but we were both pretty tired at that point,” Allen said.
Allen’s actions that day are part of his job while he’s on duty with the Minot Fire Department. But the incident is an example that being a firefighter isn’t simply a job, it’s a lifestyle.
“When you get into our line of work, I think you tend to pay more attention to things around you. You notice more things. It’s on your mind all the time,” he said.
“Thanks to Scott’s awareness and quick reaction, things didn’t get any worse for me that day,” Nguyen said in her letter. “I would like to give recognition to Scott for his courage.”
Allen said there was an area of rapids not far away, so he knew he had to get Nguyen out of the river as fast as possible.
“If she would have gotten into those rapids, she could have gotten badly hurt,” he said. “Once we got back on the raft, we realized what just happened. It was a slow float on the raft, but we couldn’t fight the current when we were in the water.”
As scary as the incident was, it didn’t ruin the day of rafting and family time.
“It happened about in the middle of our day. Every time we stopped after that to let the kids swim, we didn’t let go of them,” Allen said. “But no one got hurt, and that’s all that matters.”