Swim Call


Posted Wed, Mar 19, 2014

What cabin fever? [Photo courtesy of: Karlyn Tilley, Golden Fire Dept.]

What cabin fever? [Photo courtesy of Golden Fire Dept.]

GOLDEN, Colo.—Everybody is sick and tired of being inside. Even winter diehards are ready to explode like a nuclear bomb. Spring fever has come early this year, due to the fact that no springtime weather has made an appearance in Colorado yet–it seems as if winter will never leave.

Each year the spring does eventually come around, and people do return to summer happiness, a phenomenon, which occurs every summer–prior to waiting for next summer.


Capt. John E. Bales of the Golden Fire Department is a seasoned veteran with years of hard work and dedication. He understands what it means to serve the public selflessly. Both Capt. Bales (who heads Golden’s Fire/Rescue recovery efforts) and Golden Fire Department Communications Manager Karlyn Tilley, want the public to slow down and take a breath before you quickly drown.

Referring to the first creek related fatality of 2014, Bales says, “We walked over and made the recovery…took our equipment and just walked over there, and of course it was a fatal!”

Clear Creek Canyon's finest [Photo by: Tommy Trask]

Clear Creek Canyon’s finest [Photo by Tommy Trask]

Clear Creek Canyon is an oasis among oasis’. It’s here the rescue schools around the world send their rescue swimmers to learn how to swim in real water. Ask the Hawaiian and South Korean rescue swimmers who barely passed Golden’s stringent rescue swimming training course last year.


Bales threatened to fail them all for attempting to drown — due to their failure to know what a fast-moving river can do to unsuspecting and over confident swimmers. The professional swimmers eventually learned to adapt, and barely passed the training–despite their initial environmental paradigms and psychological barriers.

“The runoff, it’s coming,” Bales says. “The snow pack’s pretty good right now. In the basin that at least goes to Clear Creek, we’re probably in that 130-140 percent snow pack right now.”

Bales warns, “That’s early winter and late winter snow, the impact will be the spring snow, wet snow, the real heavy snow.” He explains that many things contribute to runoff conditions. “It also depends on how fast it melts.”

Professional kayaking takes skill and experience. [Photo courtesy of: Karlyn Tilley, Golden Fire Dept.]

Professional kayaking takes skill and experience. [Photo courtesy of: Karlyn Tilley, Golden Fire Dept.]

Tilley adds, “We’ve seen pretty much every scenario there is.”  Tilley spent 15 years working as a professional journalist prior to her career honorably serving the citizens of the City of Golden.

People die every year swimming in Colorado creeks. One fatality–is one too many for Bales and Tilley. The Golden Fire Department’s biggest concern is “People who think they can get in that creek, with little or no experience, and without proper equipment,” Bales says.

Children near the river bank worry Capt. Bales far more than the kayakers–in fact–Bales and Tilley candidly admit that kayakers have saved countless lives within Clear Creek. Most of those rescues were never reported.

Even though Clear Creek Canyon stems well outside the city lines of Golden, “we’re still the fire agency that does all the water rescue all along there,” Bales says. He has seen his share of cheap discount-store rafts, people, and pets go missing in the creek’s alluring waterway.

Water rescue gear and the message board. [Photo by: Tommy Trask]

Water rescue gear and the message board. [Photo by Tommy Trask]

“We’re not afraid to close that creek,” Tilley says.

The Golden Fire Department is comprised of an all volunteer force, with the exception of their administration and payroll departments. They are not making a profit. They choose to care and protect for free instead.

Capt. Bales punctuates the point that, “People drown in bathtubs.” It doesn’t take much water after an accident to create a disaster. Common sense makes any river seem more dangerous after acknowledging it for what it really is–a jagged rock-lined death-trap with an unstoppable current.

Capt. Bales demonstrates what Golden's active water rescue gear looks like--inside the rescue truck itself. [Photo by: Tommy Trask]

Capt. Bales demonstrates what Golden’s active water rescue gear looks like–inside the rescue truck itself. [Photo by Tommy Trask]

“This water is never warm. I don’t know how people go out there and stand in it. It is cold in August,” explains Bales while pulling up current creek conditions on his brightly flickering computer screen. “Hypothermia is a big thing.”

Tilley went on to explain that the volunteers of the department offer their time, health, and even their lives for total strangers in distress. She wants people to understand that Golden Fire and Rescue is all about people helping people.

“They are doing all that as volunteers. That’s on top of their regular job,” Tilley says.

“We like people to come here, and enjoy the creek and the amenities, all the way up in the canyon,” Bales says. “But, there are the pros who come here, who know what they are doing with kayaks and stuff, the river rafters who come here that know what they’re doing. “It’s having an awareness, coming with the right equipment, and when the water is moving, the general public needs to stay out of it.”

The rescue truck sits right where it should be, in the garage. [Photo by: Tommy Trask]

The rescue truck sits right where it should be, in the garage. [Photo by: Tommy Trask]

Capt. Bales has the authority to choose to let only kayaks down Clear Creek depending on the creek’s moment-to-moment condition.

Golden Fire is just as concerned with Central City traffic being dragged across the bottom of the creek, as it is its swimmers. Under severe runoff conditions the water is moving at 1,800-2,200 cubic feet per second–so be careful driving up to your favorite rafting spot.  Check the creek conditions before going rafting, but go rafting and have fun unless you are a rookie swimmer–in that case, stick to the shallow end of a pool.

For conditional water levels on any creek or river you plan on jumping into, please first go to: http://waterdata.usgs.gov



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About Tommy Trask

Thomas Trask is a Denver-Area Freelance Writer and Convergent Journalist.

View all posts by Tommy Trask

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