Water safety is top priority for lifeguards at Glenn Otto this summer

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - Crowds take to the shores of the Sandy River in Troutdale.It’s the first official day of summer and soon, droves of people will roll to the river in Troutdale, filling parking lots and hauling kids, drink coolers and inner tubes from their cars down to the banks of the Sandy River.

At one particular sandy spot under the east historic highway bridge, Kevin Chaussee is taking advantage of a warm start to summer with his 3-year-old son, Cameron.

As soon as the sun comes out, Chaussee, a native Portlander, said he is out the door, headed for the best source of free entertainment: the great outdoors.

“We live through a long rainy season and we deserve it,” he said.

Like most locals, he relishes all Oregon has to offer no more than an hour and a half drive away from the city — the coast, mountains, rivers and waterways.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - August Wells, 3, is building the beginnings of a sand castle on the bank of the Sandy River.“It’s nice to live close to the rivers,” Chaussee said.

This year, he and his son have been coming nearly every other day to the Sandy River since before the lifeguards showed up for duty over Memorial Day weekend.

Young Cameron Chaussee is a natural in the water. Plugging his nose to go under, but never quite dunking his head all the way, he wades into the water giggling and without hesitation. Though he is wearing a life jacket, at times, he strays too deep and his father calls him back toward shore.

He is one of many kids and adults on the beach getting safety lessons from the lifeguards on duty.

“We all know Cameron,” said AMR River Rescue Lifeguard Shawn Houston, standing in a wetsuit in the shaded lifeguard tent perched on the river bank at Troutdale’s Glenn Otto Community Park.

“We’ve given him a lot of water safety information.”

At this particular location, lifeguards are on duty every day, rain or shine, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., all summer until Labor Day.

At the tent, lifeguards lend out to people free life jackets, donated by, a global organization dedicated to preventing injuries and deaths among children. Lifeguards ask that borrowers provide some type of identification or personal information in exchange.

Usually, one lifeguard patrols the water in a canoe, while the other monitors the people and water from shore.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - River lifeguard Shawn Houston shows Cameron Chaussee, 3, which direction the river flows. “It’s a beautiful place to cool off,” said Houston, “but it can become a very troublesome spot.”

Freshly melted snow from the flanks of Mount Hood, strong currents move through the middle of the river. Swimmers can feel the pull just eight feet from the shoreline.

The water is a bitter 60 degrees, only heating up to about 65 degrees during the hottest days of the summer.

Pointing at the river, rippling by and gushing over rocks on the other side of the bridge, Houston said, “This is like a water treadmill — even when you’ve tired out swimming, the water will keep coming.”

Houston said it’s his duty to warn people about the dangers of the river’s current before they get into trouble.

The scary part is even the best swimmers are at risk of drowning, he said.

“It’s not necessarily about swimming proficiency,” he said. “People run into trouble exhausting themselves against the current.”

Every summer, tragic headlines surface: “Woman drowns in Sandy River,” “Deadly inner tube accident,” “Woman drowns during inner-tubing trip.”

To help prevent accidents before they happen, Houston encourages those coming to visit the Sandy River, or any body of water, to play it safe and wear a life jacket.

“It is about not overestimating your abilities and not underestimating the river,” he said.

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