Survivors did survive
June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:55 PM
"Michael Angelo and Nancy Bartlett watch as Jeff Simmons (left) brushes his teeth and Bev Helland swigs down some mouthwash. The public display of dental hygiene was the first chance firefighters participating in the Ohana Island Survival Challenge had to properly clean their teeth in eight days.Matt Johnson / staff photoAlthough their husbands, boyfriends, and wives were tired, sun baked, starving, and exhausted after eight days on a desert island, the men and women who welcomed the castaways of the Ohana Island Survival Challenge could not resist one practical joke when the group returned to South Whidbey Friday afternoon.Having just flown into the Langley Small Boat Harbor on three float planes, the 14 Fire Protection District 3 firefighters who participated in the challenge sat down at a picnic table in Phil Simon Park for their first real meal in more than a week. But when they pulled back the aluminum foil from the dishes awaiting them, a groan went up from the entire group.One dish contained rice and live, crawling meal worms. Another held a crab salad with live crabs. The third was a plate of whole, uncooked, recently caught fish. It was a little too much like the reality the survivors had lived.Fortunately, there were also hot dogs, hamburgers, real salads and plenty of ice cream treats to get the survivors' minds off what they were forced to eat during the days they spent on the remote North Finger Island in the San Juan chain. They didn't have showers, they didn't have much water, and the only food they had was rice and anything else they could find in nature. But they did have each other.Survival challenge participant Angela West said that was all they really needed.It was an incredible bonding experience, she said. You have no idea. It's going to change everything from now on.That does not mean the group was unhappy to be back on South Whidbey. Firefighter Donald Elliot dropped to his knees when he stepped onto the harbor dock, screamed, and kissed the ground. Jeff Simmons made a beeline for the shore, where a toothbrush and toothpaste awaited him. Elliot said the homecoming could not have come too soon.We almost had to eat a snake, he said.Like Elliot, the rest of the group had eating on their minds. To the person, each survivor who came ashore asked Where's the food?They were able to control their hunger long enough to greet family and friends. Though they all warned their loved ones that they smelled too bad for hugs, they got them anyway. Barb Neal said she was happy to have her husband, Doug, back home. The time apart was too long.It is probably the longest in 12 years of marriage, she said.The survival challenge was both a training exercise for the firefighters and a fund-raiser. The event raised about $3,300 for Fire Protection District 3. "