EDITOR'S COLUMN | Maddox’s swim was a lesson for us all

The ole personal column, perhaps the most challenging part of being a community newspaper editor. My predecessor once told me, “Anyone can write about something, the trick is learning to write about nothing, week after week.”

Fortunately I have something to scribble about for Saturday’s paper, courtesy of Chuck Maddox. The Freeland resident and Snohomish County Fire District 1 captain took an unplanned dip into Holmes Harbor Monday and had to be rescued by his Whidbey counterparts. It was a light-hearted event, with a happy ending, and the adventure earned a shivering Mr. Maddox the spotlight on Wednesday’s front page of The Record.

And if that wasn’t humiliation enough, King 5 news picked up the story and relayed it to the rest of Western Washington. Sounds like a lot of donuts to me [the tradition in fire departments is anyone unlucky enough to have their picture in the paper has to buy donuts for the rest of the crew].

So, you could accurately say that Mr. Maddox’s fame was unwanted, coming at the cost of a cold swim and an empty wallet. Expensive, yes, but a better word would be priceless. His story made headlines, and while the angle was of a rescuer who needed rescuing the message was about the importance of life jackets.

Mr. Maddox might have survived the ordeal without one, but the one he was wearing greatly increased his chances. Indeed, aside from keeping him afloat, an attached whistle was heard by people still asleep in their homes.

One online commenter admitted to being guilty of not always wearing a life jacket, and said the story has made him think twice. He’s not the only one.

I grew up in Hawaii, actively surfed for 20 years and have worked and played on boats since childhood. I’m an active sailor, often alone and I am in a business where I am called on to write about marine rescues. What I’m saying is, I’ve spent a lifetime on the water and I know better, yet I don’t always wear a life jacket.

I’m pretty good about it, especially when I’m alone, but I’m not as religious about wearing one as I am with a seat belt, and it’s shameful.

Every time I go out without a life jacket, it’s a message to fellow boaters that this is OK. It’s not. It doesn’t matter how nice the weather is, and a seat cushion is not enough. Over-confidence is our worst enemy.

As Mr. Maddox acutely demonstrated, even highly-trained professionals in the rescue business can find themselves in dicey and unexpected situations. His example is a reminder to us all to always, always wear a life jacket.

So while Wednesday’s story was about a veteran rescuer needing rescue, it seems Mr. Maddox was in fact once again saving us. Thanks, Chuck.


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