At a district-level Klondike Derby, the wintry mix of activities is meant to be fun, encourage teamwork and foster a little friendly competition between troops.
But, as we learned last month, those same activities can also teach practical skills necessary to save someone’s life.
Last month, five New Jersey teenagers rescued a pair of siblings who fell into an icy pond. News quickly spread that two of those heroes are members of the same Scouts BSA troop.
Kieran Foley and Drew Scalice, 14-year-olds from Troop 47 of the Monmouth Council, learned what to do not by reading a Wikipedia article or watching a YouTube video. They learned by attending the annual Klondike Derby held by the Twin Lights District.
“The scenario changes a little every year, but the Scouts must follow proper procedure to ‘rescue’ someone from the middle of a big blue tarp. Because we know it’s likely to be one of the challenges, we practice as a troop so the Scouts are prepared for this challenge,” says Troop 47 Scoutmaster Mike Marinelli. “Little did I know these Scouts would one day put it into action in real life.”
Here’s what happened
On Dec. 17, two children, 8-year-old Olivia and 4-year-old R.J. Heid, were sledding down a hill near the Beacon Hill Country Club in Middletown, N.J.
They were moving at an alarmingly fast speed and had been turned backward, zooming toward an icy pond behind them. The kids’ dad was yelling at them to jump off, but they couldn’t.
Kieran and Drew saw the whole thing.
“They hit the pond fast and hard,” Kieran told Bryan on Scouting. “Before I could even think, I went in quickly to take them out.”
Kieran was the first link in what became a human chain of rescuers. The young men locked hands to pull Olivia and R.J. out of the frigid water and onto dry land.
“My friends and I really did not think too much about it,” Kieran says. “We were happy we were there to help.”
The story snowballs
Drew, Kieran and their three friends checked with the kids’ parents to make sure the little ones were OK. Hearing they were, the heroes headed home, assuming the story would end there.
It did not.
After the rescue, the mother of the rescued children posted her story on Facebook. That quickly spread to local news outlets in New Jersey. Three days later, the young men found themselves on CNN. Two days after that, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy called to personally thank the young heroes.
“It all kind of felt like a big dream,” Drew says. “It was more nerve-racking to do the interviews than the actual rescue, because during the rescue there was no time to think — just act.”
Learned in Scouting
Drew says that the rescue didn’t just require knowledge of what to do (and not do) in high-pressure situations. It also required him to keep a cool head.
“Through lessons and experiences over the last four years in Scouts, I learned how to handle certain situations and keep myself calm until after the situation has been resolved,” he says. “America needs Scouting because it’s important for young kids and teenagers to learn how to react in situations, whether it’s a major situation or a small one. It teaches life skills that everyone needs but not everyone is taught.”
Kieran loves Scout camping trips because they let him sharpen his outdoor skills and spend time outside with friends.
But he’s mature enough to understand that he’s learning something on these trips, too.
“Mostly, Scouts has taught me about true teamwork,” he says. “I really appreciate all that my leaders have taught me.”
The proud Scoutmaster
As Scout volunteers teaching first-aid and rescue skills, you try to prepare young people for that critical moment where a split-second decision can make all the difference.
This prep work is vital, because you probably won’t be there when that moment arrives.
Scoutmaster Marinelli knows this well. He first read about the rescue on Facebook, where the post didn’t list the heroes’ names.
“At the time, I didn’t know our Scouts were involved,” he says. “The Middletown Patch, a local news blog, wrote a story about it the next day with the teens’ names, and I was like, ‘hey, I know those boys.’ I was incredibly proud but wasn’t really surprised. These boys, like most Scouts, are the type of people that would jump into action without second thought.”
For Marinelli, who was a Cub Scout but never a Boy Scout, the rescue validates what he and his fellow leaders teach the Scouts in Troop 47: skills young people need to know but hope they never need to use.
But Marinelli says knowing what to do and actually doing it are two very different things.
“They are getting a lot of attention for what they feel was just ‘the right thing to do,’ but they deserve every moment of their moment in the spotlight,” he says. “These are good kids who were in the right place at the right time and responded the way they were trained in Scouting.”
It’s just the latest example of the importance of Scouting — today more than ever before.
“There are so many life skills a young adult gains from being in the Scouting program,” Marinelli says. “These skills may help them one day in getting into a college or perform well in a job interview. It may point them in a career direction through learning a trade or even ﬁnd a new hobby learned in earning a merit badge. But for these Scouts, the skills they learned were literally life saving.”
Marinelli plans to nominate his Scouts for a Heroism Award.
“I think this was a feel-good story 2020 sorely needed,” he says.
About winter safety
This seems like a good opportunity to remind you about the BSA’s Safety Moments — bite-size opportunities to learn how to keep yourself and your Scouts safe.