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Saving lives—off shift—earns lifeguard high honour

Gary Lefebvre, the aquatic supervisor at the Vernon Recreation Centre, is being recognized for rescuing three people whose rental canoe capsized in Kalamalka Lake last summer.
Image Credit: Gary Lefebvre
March 05, 2014 - 8:26 AM

VERNON - An award was the last thing on Garry Lefebvre’s mind when he heard a faint call for help somewhere out on the water on a hot August evening.

Lefebvre was toweling himself off and getting ready to leave after an afternoon of volleyball and swimming with out-of-town relatives when he heard the yelling.

In the fading evening light, he spotted a trio of canoeists—a woman and two men—about 300 metres offshore tightly gripping their capsized canoe.

“They weren’t letting go, so that told me they weren’t strong swimmers,” Lefebvre says.

Seven months later, the humble, longtime Vernon lifeguard is being recognized by the Lifesaving Society of B.C. for what he did next.

His cousins were already beelining for the canoe, an act that made him proud and anxious in the same breath.

“I was worried about their safety. I know the risks involved with doing an in-water rescue and the last thing I wanted was for a victim to grab onto them in deep water,” Lefebvre says.

He sent two of the younger cousins back but enlisted the help of the eldest, a 16-year-old swim club member. When they reached the canoe, Lefebvre asked if the three stranded boaters were the only ones in the canoe. They nodded.

Lefebvre and his cousin towed the boat back to shore while the victims held onto the boat. His other cousins assisted by pushing the boat from the rear.

While communication was difficult because the boaters didn’t speak English very well, Lefebvre says it wasn’t hard to tell how they were feeling.

“They were more embarrassed than anything,” he says.

The woman was the only one wearing a lifejacket, and the outcome could have been far different had Lefebvre not been there. 

“If people got the idea that putting on a lifejacket was as important as putting on your seatbelt, it would make things a lot safer,” Lefebvre says.

He’ll be accepting a rescue award later this month in Vancouver during a Lifesaving Society of B.C. event. It’s the first time he’ll be attending as a recipient.

“It’s really an amazing ceremony because you get to hear stories of people and their acts of bravery. It’s quite emotional,” he says.

“I never anticipated this would turn around with me getting an award.”

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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