Time worked against rescuers trying to save boy from floodwaters

Jacob Baudek

Jacob Baudek

Central Yavapai Fire Dept. has one of the most highly trained swiftwater rescue teams in the state, but its members are frustrated that they didn't have a better opportunity this past Thursday to put that training into action when floodwaters swept a 6-year-old boy to his death in a flash flood near Mayer.

Thursday's storm delivered a series of events that rescuers were not able to overcome, despite their capabilities.

CYFD Battalion Chief Cougan Carothers, who is the department's swiftwater rescue program manager working jointly with the Prescott Fire Department, said the team's name is all over state media in connection with the incident but, in reality, by the time they received notification of the need for a rescue and responded to Yarber Wash, where the flood occurred, Jacob Baudek was already in the water and his mother, father and sister, 8, had made it to shore.

Carothers and his team want to reiterate the warning to not cross washes, even if they look safe, and even if people have a medical reason to do so.

"When the water is running, we have the ability to get you out and bring you to an ambulance. It might not be comfortable, but don't take the chance. Call 911," he said.

Mayer Fire Chief Glenn Brown said the original 911 calls for help Thursday night directed rescuers to the Old Sycamore Road/Chauncey Ranch area at the Agua Fria River. But the family was in a different area, and it took firefighters nearly an hour to find them. CYFD Operations Chief Scott Bliss said Mayer Fire notified the CYFD swiftwater team before it located the family, but by the time the team traveled from Prescott Valley, and back into the area north of Highway 69, Jacob Baudek was in the water.

Carothers said he could not "armchair quarterback," but he feels the frustration of knowing that if his team could have gotten to the Baudeks in time, they had the training to at least give them some options to try to save the child.

"We have gotten phone calls asking us why we didn't do anything," he said. "We couldn't do anything, because we weren't there. This was well out of our district."

"We received the call for help before (the Baudeks) came off the truck, but not in time to get there before it happened," Bliss said.

The team responded in 4-wheel drives and had to travel Highway 69 from Prescott Valley to Old Sycamore Road in Mayer, then north about four miles on a dirt road to the Agua Fria area. They did so in rain, sleet, darkness and high winds, adding to their travel time.

At the request of the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, the swiftwater team did assist through the night and the next day in the search for Baudek's body. After they called off the search on Friday night, they were not asked to continue, and hikers found the child's body the next day, more than three miles from where he entered the water. CYFD Fire Chief Mike Parrish said the team must receive a request for assistance before they can deploy - team members cannot go wherever they like - and they were not asked to search further after Friday.

Carothers said the team spent a great deal of time planning for the storm, and Sedona officials had also asked them to be on call in case of emergency. The swiftwater team members have reached instructor status, and they teach CYFD engine crews, so each engine has a crew member who is at least at "swiftwater awareness" status, able to conduct a rescue, and has the equipment to do so.

During the storm, several Prescott areas were deemed impassable, Carothers said, but in fact, CYFD had knowledge of emergency accesses. That is why it is so important for people to call for help before they attempt to cross washes themselves, he said.

"Odds are people with the training have pre-planned rescues for these areas and know how to get to you," he said.

The area could get some more winter weather today, and Carothers warned residents to not be complacent. Even if the storm is not severe, the ground is saturated and it would take very little for flash flooding to occur.