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Artwork lauds Sandy River lifeguards, while doubling as water safety reminder

To mark the 20th anniversary of the American Medical Response program to patrol the Sandy River, the Kiwanis Club of the Columbia River Gorge plans to erect a monument of lifeguards patrolling the water at the entrance to Troutdale's Glenn Otto Community Park.

The club will host an unveiling in the park at 4 p.m. Friday, June 21, of a miniature scale model of the bronze sculpture Chad Caswell will create: two statues, one of a male lifeguard and the other, a female lifeguard, standing on a large concrete base watching over and pointing at the river. PMG PHOTO: MATT DEBOW  - Sculptor Chad Caswell and Kiwanis Club of the Columbia River Gorge member Terry Smoke pose in downtown Troutdale. Smoke enlisted Caswells help to craft a statue honoring American Medical Response lifeguards who have patrolled the Sandy River in Troutdale for 20 years.     An American Medical Response ambulance is on standby at Glenn Otto Community Park during summer months.   PMG File Photo: Matt DeBow

Terry Smoke, a Kiwanis Club of the Columbia River Gorge member, recruited Caswell to sculpt the statues.

"(Smoke) said he was looking for a lifeguard sculpture because it's coming up on the 20th year," Caswell said, "and we wanted two figures up there to show that it's a team effort to really man that post."

More than 20 years ago, two to four people, on average, died by drowning in the Sandy River at Glenn Otto park, 1102 E. Historic Columbia River Highway, and at High Rocks Park on the Clackamas River near Gladstone.

In 1999, American Medical Response, or AMR, river rescue technicians — more commonly known as lifeguards — started patrolling the swift section of the Sandy River at the park, and the program expanded to High Rocks park in 2002.

Caswell is planning on sculpting one lifeguard this year, and add another next year. Each monument will cost approximately $17,000.

The Kiwanis Club also is applying for a Metro regional government community enhancement grant that, if approved, will fund a large portion of the project. The grants are funded by a Metro per-ton fee collected from solid-waste transfer stations to improve cities in the metropolitan area. PMG FILE PHOTO: MATT DEBOW - An American Medical Response ambulance is on standby at Glenn Otto Community Park during summer months.

Smoke also is spearheading the Kiwanis Club's fundraising effort for the statues' creation. He created Go Fund Me account at, and donations also can be made to the River Safety Account at Riverview Bank, 225 N.E. Burnside Road, Gresham. The sculpture's base will be adorned with plaques with donors' names.

Program's success

Only three drowning deaths have occurred at the two parks since AMR patrols began. Water rescue technicians have accomplished 63 water rescues and 1,200 assists.

Caswell's first job was as a lifeguard, so he's quite familiar with river rescue technicians efforts.

"'As an assist' is when you jump in and save someone," Caswell explained. "A rescue is usually when you save their life or an ambulance comes."

The popular Troutdale section of river usually appears calm, but is more dangerous than it looks.

"You wouldn't think that by looking at it," Caswell said. "It looks shallow; it looks safe."

While the two life-size sculptures will honor the lifeguards, they also will double as a water safety reminder.

"We're putting the monument right before you're walking down to the river," Caswell said. "You look up and you see this glorious image of lifeguards, and it's in your head about water safety. You know that there's someone there watching you, and protecting you down there." PMG FILE PHOTO: MATT DEBOW - About one person died each year in this Troutdale section of the Sandy River before American Medical Response lifeguards started patrolling the river in 1999.

Smoke agreed with that sentiment, and he noted at least one victim died each year at the park before the patrols began.

"(The statues) are to honor those who have implemented the program, and to warn people of the dangers of the river," Smoke said. "It was scary to think that every single year somebody was dying down there."

Smoke added the park has gotten even busier than it was in the 1990s.

"I can't even imagine what it would be like now with that many people down there now," Smoke said. "I mean, it was busy in the summer, but it was nothing like it is now."


About Chad Caswell

Chad Caswell is the son of renowned Troutdale bronze sculptor Rip Caswell, owner of Caswell Sculpture gallery, 903 E. Historic Columbia River Highway.

Chad has helped with his dad's many creations and branched out on his own and created life-size sculptures such as World War II hero Leonard Dewitt in McMinnville, and the Teddy Bear Statue at the corner of Third Street and Main Avenue in downtown Gresham.

Staying safe

on the water

n Wear a properly sized U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when in, on or near water, including docks and beaches.

n Be aware and prepared for the hazards before you go into the water (swift currents, cold shock, debris).

n Know your swimming abilities.

n Keep children within arm's reach and provide constant supervision in and around water.


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