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Lifesaving Scouts

by: Anthony Roberts, From left, Boy Scout leader Orlin Wetzker, scouts Michael Blackham and Scott Adams, Scout leader Bill Butterfield, his son Brian, Derek Kotowski, and Robert McDonald of the award review committee.

Bill Butterfield had been on rafting trips for what seemed like 'thousands of times.'

So even with a swift current and 50 to 60 degree water on the Deschutes River in July 2005, he still felt comfortable guiding a raft full of Boy Scouts from the local Venture crew 849 through the class III Whitehouse Rapids.

But things happen fast, and one scout dropped an oar and was teetering on the edge of the boat. Butterfield leaned in to grab him, leaving the boat without two of its rowers, and drifting sideways toward a boulder and log. The boat flipped onto its side, and after helping to free one scout whose leg was entangled in a rope from the raft, Butterfield became trapped.

The story might have taken a more grim turn at that point, were it not for the actions of four scouts, including Bill's son Brian, Scott Adams, Michael Blackham and Derek Kotowski, and another Scout leader, Orlin Wetzker. Those five were awarded medals at a lifesaving awards ceremony at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Meinecke Road in Sherwood.

After Brian was thrown from the boat, he helped pull a younger Scout, Ben Wetzger, to safety, and then moved to the rock to help his father stay afloat while the other scouts worked to free him from the fallen tree and rock he was pinned between. With the cold water pushing him into the rock at an angle, his son was the only person he could see while the rescue efforts continued. The Scouts were eventually able to free him from the log and drag him to safety, and he was transported to a medical center for hypothermia.

'I watched Brian go from a boy to a man in about an hour's time, he really did take charge when he had to,' Bill said. He was choked up during the ceremony when he expressed his gratitude toward the scouts who saved him.

'It's obvious, the feeling that I have for these kids. Not only being associated with them over the last few years, but watching them today as they grow up and move on,' he said. 'They came to my aid not necessarily because of what we taught them. I think it has more to do with the heart that they had … I know my son and I know these boys and I know they would have done the same for anybody else.'

Robert McDonald, the award presenter and a member of the Boy Scouts' Review and Process Committee for Cascade Pacific Council, said the commendations were very rare.

'These rewards are very prestigious,' he said. 'It's not just the performance of a duty … it's actually a lifesaving act.'

Adams, Blackham, Kotowski and Wetzker received the Heroism award medal, while Brian Butterfield was awarded with the Honor Medal. Brian said he's always had a close relationship with his father, but it has grown since the events, even as he has moved to Eugene this year to attend the University of Oregon, where he's playing the practice squad for the Ducks football team.

'As a kid you take your parents for granted because they're always there for you,' he said. 'When something like this happens your perspective really changes, The little things become a big deal.'