January 7, 2002
Tale of heroism serves as inspiration
by Deborah Stone
Inspirational stories are always special to hear, but they take on additional importance during times like these, when our country is in need of hope and faith.
Sometimes it is surprising to learn that one needs to look no further than his or her own community to find such tales and encounter the heroes who are responsible for their occurrences.
Bob Feczko, a 16-year-old Redmond youth, never imagined that he would be a hero, although he always hoped he would respond actively in an emergency if necessary.
The active, athletic Inglemoor High School sophomore is an avid football and basketball player, a registered lifeguard and soon-to-be Eagle Scout.
Last June, while vacationing with his family at Ocean Shores, Bob and his father heard screams from down the beach.
At first they thought it was laughter, but then they thought they heard someone yelling for help. Bob decided to head toward the noise to check out the situation, while his father remained with Bob's mother, Mary Ann, who had a broken ankle.
"Halfway down the beach, I had this bad feeling inside and it made me break into a run," explains Bob. "I could see people a long way off. They looked like dots to me. When I finally reached them, I saw that it was a woman who was screaming and pointing toward three people who were 60 to 80 yards in the ocean. These people were fully clothed and appeared to be struggling in the water."
Bob learned that the three were the woman's grown children (one man, 27 years old, and two women, ages 20 and 18) and that they were basically nonswimmers who had earlier been wading at the ocean's edge when they were pulled out by a riptide.
The strength of the riptide had dragged them to deep water, and they were having trouble keeping their heads above the surface.
To Bob, it looked like the man was trying to hold up one of the women, but they both kept going under the water.
"I looked around for something, anything to use, but then I realized that even if I found something to throw, I was too far away for it to be of any use," explains Bob. "I gave the situation a second's thought because I knew it was a risk for me to swim out to them and there was a possibility that I wouldn't make it back, but I felt that I had to take that risk and try to save them."
When Bob came within 5 feet of the trio, he stopped and evaluated the situation. He saw that the one woman was holding herself up, but the other woman, who was being held up by her brother, was in desperate need of assistance. He decided that if he helped her, he would also be aiding her brother, who hopefully could hold his own, at least until more help arrived.
From his lifeguard training, he knew that the best way to approach a person in the water is from behind, so he told the man to turn his sister around so that she didn't face him. Bob then put his arm around her waist and held her, keeping her head above the water.
He said, "I was going to try and pull her in, but this riptide was huge, about 30 feet on either side, and I knew that it would be impossible for me to swim her in, so I just stayed out there with her and the other two, hoping that help would come soon."
The water was cold and Bob was aware of the dangers of hypothermia in such a situation. He kept scanning the shore, praying that assistance was on its way, all the while trying to talk to the others to calm them. The fire department arrived 20 to 30 minutes later and came to the group's aid.
With the help of jet skis and flotation devices, they got all three siblings to shore. Bob swam back on his own, but had to fight the tide for much of the way.
All four were taken for observation to a hospital in Aberdeen. They were treated for possible hypothermia and pulmonary edema.
As a result of Bob's actions, the city of Redmond presented him a with a youth hero award last summer and then earlier this month, he was given a hero award by the Red Cross in Seattle.
The Red Cross put together a video, interviewing Bob, his parents and the victims he saved: Calvin, Kimberly and Heidi Wright, from Enumclaw.
"They said some really touching things about me," comments Bob. "They were really thankful and grateful about what I did. It felt good to know I had made the right decisions."
Bob's parents, George and Mary Ann Feczko, are full of pride for their son and his heroic actions. Mary Ann says, "I was scared to death for him when I learned he had gone out there. I thought I was going to have to sacrifice my son's life to save another's, and I didn't want that to happen. But then I realized that the situation was out of my control and I surrendered that thought and just prayed on shore. I knew I had to have faith. I'm very proud of what he did, but I'm humble, too, because I know that I could have lost him."
According to Mary Ann, her husband had a different point of view while all this action was happening.
She says, "Once George actually got there, he looked around and realized that there was no one who was qualified to help those people. He wasn't in good enough shape to swim out there, but he knew that Bob could do it. He had 100 percent confidence in Bob and felt that everything would be OK."
Bob later told his mother that he realized that his whole life, thus far, had led up to that event. He felt that his life had prepared him for this situation.
Mary Ann adds, "Ironically, Bob was afraid of the water when he was little, but he took lots of swimming lessons and overcame this fear. He became a strong swimmer and with the Boy Scouts of America, he has had many experiences in the water, including the ocean."
When asked if he would respond in future emergencies, involving similar risks to his life, Bob doesn't hesitate in his reply. "Yes. I would jump in and help if I felt that I could do something to save someone. It would be hard to stand by and watch someone struggle and fight for his life. I just couldn't do that. I value human life."