Detective Donovan Jackson & Firefighter Rylenski Strong Honored as American Red Cross 2017 Emergency Medical Assistance Heroes

On the evening of June 10, a capsized boat along the shore of Lake Michigan left five distressed passengers stranded in freezing cold water, waving for help in a race against the setting sun.

Long-time friends and former Chicago Park District lifeguards, Rylenski Strong and Donovan Jackson, were enjoying a day on the water when they noticed a yellow object far in the distance. Driving in closer on their wave runners, the pair soon realized that the object they saw was, in fact, an overturned boat.

Rylenski, a Chicago firefighter, and Donovan, a Chicago police detective, were off-duty at the time, but that didn’t stop them from acting. Immediately, they threw their extra life jackets to the four visible passengers, one of which was sitting atop the overturned boat. Donovan called 9-1-1 using his cell phone and worked with Rylenski to bring the passengers to shore one-by-one on the back of their wave runners.

“I knew it was very cold and hypothermia could set in. I needed to get them out of the water,” said Donovan.

During this process, the passenger on top of the boat let them know that someone from their group was missing. Working frantically to search the waters, Rylenski and Donovan didn’t see any additional passengers in the area. Luckily, the pair heard faint knocking coming from under the boat. Quickly, they realized the fifth passenger was trapped underneath the boat with only a small air pocket. Together, they worked to free the
woman and help her to safety aboard their wave runners.

Members of Rylenski’s own firehouse responded to the scene.

Rylenski and Donovan both received training in CPR from the American Red Cross when they were Chicago Park District lifeguards and they know the power of being ready to act at a moment’s notice. “Once a lifeguard, always a lifeguard,” Donovan said.

Because of Rylenski and Donovan’s quick thinking and life-saving skills, all five passengers walked away without severe injuries.

“As long-time boaters and water enthusiasts, we both know the golden rule: that when someone is in distress in the water, you go help. You never know when that could be you,” said Donovan. “What are the odds that two former lifeguards would show up on the scene?”

The Emergency Medical Assistance Award is presented to an individual(s) who provided lifesaving medical assistance to a person or people in need during a time of crisis.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2017 Heroes. For more information about the 2017 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

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