A Washougal police officer received an award this week from a state police organization for a daring rescue of a rafter last spring on the Washougal River.
The Washington Council of Police & Sheriffs honored Francis Reagan as Officer of the Year at a ceremony Wednesday in Olympia. The award is meant to “recognize clearly exceptional and outstanding performance of duties which bring honor and distinction to the officer, the department and the profession,” according to a news release from the organization. Candidates are nominated by their peers and reviewed by the council’s executive board.
Before pausing and then expanding his answer, Reagan had one word to describe his reaction upon hearing the news.
“Surprised,” Reagan said.
“I can’t not think there’s a ton of other officers that have done extraordinary things. I almost feel like I’d rather have them recognized because my story has been highlighted so much.”
Around 8:15 p.m. May 4, emergency crews responded to the river near the “Big Eddy” at the 38700 block of Washougal River Road after reports of a woman screaming for help. Emily McCauley, 28, of Portland was submerged up to her neck after being swept into a fast-moving current and falling from an inner tube.
Reagan was one of the first of more than a dozen emergency personnel to arrive on the scene.
As a former Navy SEAL, he had completed a swift water rescue course as part of his training. One of the lessons included use of tension diagonal lines, in which rescuers tie a rope diagonally from one river bank to another over the person being rescued. The hope is that person would grab onto the rope and use the momentum from the current to make their way to shore.
Believing McCauley was either scared or couldn’t move due to the frigid water, Reagan directed fellow officers to tie two rescue lines together. He then donned a life jacket and swam to her. Once he reached her, he realized her legs were pinned between two boulders. As he made his assessment, McCauley was beginning to lose consciousness.
Reagan stayed with McCauley, who could not keep her head above water by herself, for another 20 or 25 minutes until a rescue team arrived. He spent an estimated 45 minutes in the water.
“I started to recognize signs of hypothermia at about the halfway point,” Reagan said. “We were all super, super cold.”
Eventually, a group of four to seven rescuers — by Reagan’s estimate — began pulling McCauley free with a rope. It took three or four “strong pulls,” Reagan said.
“It had to be a Herculean effort, to be honest,” Reagan said.
After McCauley was freed, she was swept over rapids along with Reagan and Camas-Washougal Fire Capt. Josh Proctor. Proctor managed to grab her before she was swept away, allowing downstream rescuers to hoist her up a steep embankment. McCauley was taken to a local hospital and regained consciousness the next day.
A fellow inner tuber — Stephen Barnaby, 31, of Portland — had also been swept away and couldn’t be located by rescuers. His body was recovered July 22.
During the final stage of the rescue, Reagan managed to reach shore and return to his vehicle to get warm. He blasted the heat for about 20 minutes before starting to regain a normal body temperature.
Reagan has been an officer in Washougal since 2014.
“There is no doubt that without Officer Reagan’s swift actions, the woman would have been lost to the river,” Chris Tracy, the police organization’s president, said in a news release. “The WACOPS Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award is an honor not only for the recipient, but for our profession.”
Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib presented Reagan with the award Wednesday and gave a brief speech.
“Well, obviously I was very proud of him,” Washougal Police Chief Wendi Steinbronn said. “(The ceremony) really cemented how much of an honor it was for him.”
In July, Reagan received Clark County Fire District 6’s Fire Medal for the water rescue. Three members of the district’s Technical Rescue Team — Capt. Scott Johns and Firefighters Bill Dunlap and Tony Lothspeich — were also honored.
At the time of the rescue, and during both award ceremonies, Reagan had more than himself in mind.
“It definitely wasn’t just a one-man show by any means,” Reagan said. “I wish I could have brought everybody up to receive the award, not just me.”