Clark County Fire District 6 honors heroes from river rescue

Five agencies worked together in saving a life on the Washougal River in May

VANCOUVER — A life was saved on the Washougal River on May 4, 2019.

That sentence says it all, but says very little, too.

A life was indeed saved that day, a rescue that involved many first responders from many departments. 

Washougal police officer Francis Reagan, firefighters Tony Lothspeich and Bill Dunlap, and Captain Scott Johns, were recognized Tuesday by Clark County Fire District 6 for their heroic actions in saving a woman from drowning in the Washougal River in May. Photo by Paul Valencia
Washougal police officer Francis Reagan, firefighters Tony Lothspeich and Bill Dunlap, and Captain Scott Johns, were recognized Tuesday by Clark County Fire District 6 for their heroic actions in saving a woman from drowning in the Washougal River in May. Photo by Paul Valencia

On Tuesday night, Clark County Fire District 6 specifically honored four individuals, while noting that others could be honored in the future by other agencies.

• Francis Reagan of the Washougal Police Department was presented with the Fire Medal, the highest civilian award presented by the department. 

• Firefighter Bill Dunlap was presented with a Certificate of Exemplary Performance.

• Firefighter Tony Lothspeich was presented with a Meritorious Service Medal.

• Captain Scott Johns was presented with the Medal of Valor, the highest honor awarded to fire service personnel by Fire District 6.

A woman had fallen off of a raft and was pinned between rocks. Reagan, one of the first on the scene, jumped in the water and assisted the woman, who was trying to keep her head above water. 

“She was losing strength. I just did what I could to keep her above water,” Reagan said Tuesday after the ceremony. 

Lothspeich and Johns said Reagan did a lot more than that. 

“His role in this was absolutely incredible,” Lothspeich said.

“If it wasn’t for him, she would have died,” Johns said. 

Reagan was joined by a firefighter from Camas. They were in the cold water for some 30, 40 minutes.

The Fire Medal is for “extraordinary effort in saving a human life … while jeopardizing one’s personal safety,” according to a release from Fire District 6.

“All members … on the scene recognize that … police officer Francis Reagan put his life at risk and helped save this individual,” said Kristan Mauer, assistant chief of operations for the district.

Besides dealing with a river, the rescue attempt was in the dark. 

The attempt to bring the victim out of the water did not go perfectly. Reagan, a firefighter, and the victim all went down river. That is where Johns was stationed, just in case.

“I ended up jumping in and getting two of them,” Johns said.

Reagan was able to get out of the river on his own.

“Just pure reaction,” Johns said. “You don’t have time to think. Your training pushes you to do what you’re going to do.”

Johns received the Medal of Valor, given to those who “distinguish themselves by a display of remarkable courage against formidable odds and at great personal risk.”

Lothspeich was another of the firefighters who entered the water to help with the victim. His medal is for those “whose action or achievement places them in high standing with the fire service and which brings credit upon both the individual and department.”

“It’s incredible,” Lothspeich said of the entire operation. “Events likes this, which brought together five agencies, all for the benefit of one person. Luckily, it worked out.”

In all, Washougal police, a firefighter from Camas/Washougal, and members of the Clark County Technical Rescue Team (TRT) were part of the rescue. The TRT consists of first responders from Clark County Fire District 6, Vancouver Fire, Clark Fire and Rescue, and others. 

Dunlap was singled out for his fast action in developing an exit plan for the victim at the top of a steep embankment.

“My role was the easiest role there is,” Dunlap said, adding that he does his job in service to the community as well as all for all of his fellow first responders. 

He wanted the credit to go to the training, led by Captain Chris McBride. If there is a river training day scheduled, but the water is calm, the training is called off. Dunlap said he and his teammates only train in tough conditions, due to McBride’s lead.

“Training should be so real that the real seems fake,” Dunlap said.

Mauer noted that many in public service say there are no heroic acts — these events are just part of the job.

“However, there are times when even the most trained and experienced emergency services personnel perform with such precision and courage that their co-workers take pause and notice,” she said.

Clark County Fire District 6 awards are initiated by a nomination from a peer. From there, the nomination is sent to a committee for validation, Mauer said. The support for the four people recognized Tuesday night was unanimous.

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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