Honorable Scouts: Kids on canoe trip help save man from drowning

SUWANEE - When Greg Swartzell and Eric Young paddled around a bend in the Chattahoochee River, the assistant scoutmasters of Boy Scout Troop 1534 thought they were approaching the scene of a tornado.

Canoes were overturned. Boys were in the water. Swartzell said he felt a flash of irritation as he wondered, "What did you guys do?"

Upon hearing three letters - CPR - Swartzell said he realized the scene wasn't the result of the boys goofing off. Someone was in trouble. So Swartzell, a trained Boy Scouts of America lifeguard, jumped into the river and swam to the thin slice of shore to help while Young called 911.

Boy Scouts Alex Ciraulo and Tyler Mueller were in their canoe when they saw a fisherman on a float tip face first into the river. The boys circled back to help, and Alex yelled for the man to grab his hand. When the fisherman became unconscious, Alex knew they had to get him out of the water.

"The first thing I thought was, 'I don't know if this guy's going to make it or not,'" Alex, 13, said Monday, two days after the Saturday rescue. "I really thought he was going to die. Christ gave me all the strength so we could pull him to shore."

In a nearby canoe, Scouts Jimmy Corbett and Joshua Swartzell saw Alex and Tyler trying to help the submerged fisherman and paddled over to help. The fisherman's son, the son's father-in-law and a passerby - a Daisy Girl Scout troop leader - also joined the rescue.

The son of the 56-year-old fisherman began CPR, and Swartzell, the troop leader, arrived on shore shortly thereafter. Swartzell said he found a weak pulse, and the man started sputtering.

"He progressively got better and better," Swartzell said.

As a rescue helicopter flew overhead, Jimmy and Joshua, both 12, sat in their canoe and waved their paddles to get the attention of the authorities. Scouts Branton Fletcher, 10, and Andy Flowers, 13, also waved their paddles from the shore.

By the time the rescue boat and paramedics arrived, the unidentified fisherman was conscious, alert and breathing, said Capt. Thomas Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department.

"The actions of all the people involved in the successful rescue on the river Saturday give credit to the human spirit," Rutledge said. "They are to be commended for their selfless acts of bravery that resulted in the successful rescue and resuscitation of the victim."

Swartzell said jumping in the water goes against everything the Boy Scouts of America teaches about water rescue.

"But there's no question they did the right thing at the right time," he said.

Todd Newman, the scoutmaster of the Buford troop, said the scouts are taught First Aid skills monthly. During outdoor excursions, the troop is sometimes presented with a situation - a broken ankle or heat exhaustion - so the boys can demonstrate their skills.

"I'm just swelling with pride," Newman said. "What we've been training them for and what we've been instilling in them, they're exercising and applying it."

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman

Boy Scouts Andrew Flowers, front row left to right, Branton Fletcher, Jimmy Corbett, Joshua Swartzell and Alex Ciraulo, along with troop leaders Tom Fletcher, back row left to right, Greg Swartzell, Eric Young and Todd Newman all helped rescue a man from the Chattahoochee River on Saturday.