On June 30, 2019, Lt. David Chmelar and Firefighter Paramedic Chad Tinsley, along with other members of the St. Charles Fire Department, responded to a call of a disabled boat that was getting dangerously close to going over the Fox River dam.
As soon as they reached the river, Chmelar and Tinsley got in the rescue boat and hurried towards the disabled vessel, “I remember that I told our command which was actually our chief [Joe Schelstreet] that we were en route downriver to the disabled boat, and he asked right away what our ETA was, so we knew that they must be getting close to the dam,” says Chmelar.
The boaters had been caught in a severe storm with an abrupt downpour and high winds. Their anchor was not holding, and the strong winds from the approaching storm were blowing the boat increasingly closer to the dam.
It took about a minute for the firefighters to reach the stranded boaters. As they reached the people on the boat, a couple with their teenage son, both Chmelar and Tinsley remember how terrified the family was, “The look on their faces, they were really scared and very thankful for us to get there,” observed Tinsley.
The firefighters positioned their boat next to the disabled vessel, tied off quickly and helped the three passengers into the rescue boat and started back up the river, leaving the disabled boat behind. About 40 seconds later, the boat tumbled over the dam, crashed and capsized.
Firefighter Tinsley says that they are used to rescuing stranded boaters, but nothing to the extent of what they witnessed that day with a boat so dangerously close to the dam, “our job was just to get to them in time and get them off the boat and it all just worked out, thankfully,” adds Tinsley.
Thanks to the firefighter’s bravery, the family was quickly transported to the dock where paramedics attended to them. The victims were wet and distressed but had no physical injuries.
This incident has started dialogues between the Fire Department and the St. Charles Park District to identify ways to encourage increased boating safety in the community. Together, they are also exploring new ways to notify boaters of potentially dangerous conditions on the water.
“There’s no doubt in my mind we could have had fatalities that day,” retired Fire Chief Joe Schelstreet said.
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