South Whidbey Fire rescues a rescuer

South Whidbey Fire/EMS Deputy Chief Mike Cotton greets Chuck Maddox after his rescue from the chilly waters of Holmes Harbor on Monday. - Justin Burnett/The Record
South Whidbey Fire/EMS Deputy Chief Mike Cotton greets Chuck Maddox after his rescue from the chilly waters of Holmes Harbor on Monday.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/The Record

A career fireman found out what it’s like to be rescued this week after a morning crab pot check turned into a life-threatening emergency.

Charles “Chuck” Maddox, a Freeland resident and Snohomish County Fire District 1 captain, was checking his catch in Holmes Harbor shortly after 7 a.m. Monday when a line around his foot caused him to lose his balance and fall overboard. Maddox found himself treading very cold water and attempting to right the small aluminum dinghy, but meeting with limited success.

Knowing from his training that the danger increased with every second spent in the frigid water, estimated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to be in the low to mid 50s, Maddox did the last thing he could — he began calling for help and blowing a whistle attached to his life preserver.

“God did I blow that whistle,” Maddox later laughed, recalling the chilly water temperature.

Fortunately for Maddox, someone heard him and that was East Harbor Road resident Virginia Bloom. She and her husband, Ken, were still in bed and only half awake when they heard a puzzling sound.

“I’m thinking, ‘That’s not a bird, what is that?’ ” Bloom recalled.

Listening for a few minutes, it became clear that it was in fact a whistle and that a person was also yelling for help. Rushing out to the edge of their property, their suspicions were quickly proved correct.

“Sure enough, there was a guy clinging to a half submerged boat ... he was yelling ‘I’m freezing.’ ”

Ken Bloom called 9-1-1 and about 15 minutes later, the couple watched as a South Whidbey Fire/EMS marine rescue boat sped out and scooped up a very cold Maddox. According to Deputy Chief Mike Cotton, the recovery went smoothly and without incident. They were all back at the Freeland Park dock within a few minutes, and the crew of the fireboat watched as their shivering Snohomish County colleague dashed to an awaiting ambulance.

“He was literally running,” said a chuckling Cotton.

“He said, ‘I’m OK, I’m just cold,’” Cotton added.

Emerging about 30 minutes later wrapped in blankets, a chagrined but smiling Maddox yelled with good-natured humor at a South Whidbey Record reporter with a camera, “Don’t do it, no pictures.” He then recounted his unexpected adventure, noting that the incident may have ended very differently had he not been wearing a life preserver.

Even those who are trained in emergency response can find themselves in unexpected trouble, which is why it’s so important to always be prepared, he said.

While this was a light-hearted incident that ended well for a friend and colleague, Maddox’s rescuers agreed this was a testament to the importance of both having and wearing a lifejacket.

“They don’t work unless you wear them,” Cotton said. “He was wearing it and it saved him.”

He noted that the water temperature is still cold enough in the summer to result in a fatality.

Bloom, who later learned that it was Maddox, a neighbor for many years, said she was relieved to hear he was OK.

“He won’t live this down for a while, but thankfully he lived through it,” Bloom said.


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