As a park ranger at Bear Creek Lake Park, Jon Szetela knows well to expect the unexpected. Thanks to his quick thinking, a child at the park was rescued safely when high winds created a life-threatening situation.
Szetela was already out on Big Soda Lake in the ranger’s motorized boat assisting four park visitors who were stranded on the paddleboat they had rented because of windy conditions when things turned for the worse. An extreme gust of wind rushed across the lake as the boaters were attempting to climb into his ranger’s boat. Their movement triggered an imbalance on the paddleboat, causing it to flip over and the boaters to fall into the water. Three people surfaced immediately, but a young boy remained trapped beneath the paddleboat.
Without hesitation Szetela jumped into the water and dove under the paddleboat, quickly freeing the child’s personal flotation device from the steering handle. He then helped all four onto his boat. He says experience that includes time spent working at Aurora Reservoir prepared him for the water rescue. “When you do it often enough, it kind of becomes instinct.”
All the boaters “were a little shaken up, and the boy a little scared,” Szetela says. He checked the boy’s vital signs and got everyone safely off the lake. He also made sure to explain to the boaters the concerns of secondary drowning, a rare but dangerous condition that can occur when water in the lungs prevents blood oxygenation up to 24 hours after a water incident.
Szetela, in his second year with Lakewood, says that when high winds hit, park rangers head directly to the marina in case of emergency. “Colorado has microbursts – instantaneous winds up to 60 mph,” he explains, but it’s “not common at all, having any of the paddleboats flip.”
“Always wear your PFD. It’s state law to have it with you, and do not exceed the weight limits” of your boat, Szetela cautions. “Whenever you come to a park, make sure to read the signage,” he says, emphasizing that visitors need to pay attention to their safety when enjoying Bear Creek Lake Park’s amenities.