ATCEMS commander jumps into action during a swift water class, rescues child

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin-Travis County EMS Commander who was teaching a swift water training at Prince Solms Park in New Braunfels, Texas, ended up having to rescue a child who was in distress in the Comal River.

ATCEMS says the incident happened on Oct. 5. Special Operations Commander Craig Smith was teaching the class when he saw a young boy fall off his inner tube and kept going under water. “Commander Smith immediately identified the cardinal signs of a swimmer in distress and performed a contact rescue swim of the boy,” said ATCEMS in a press release.

“Water is the most unpredictable environment that we have. And it can take your life in an instant,” Commander Smith said.

All cadets that enter into ATCEMS go through Swiftwater Awareness training. October 5 was a sobering reminder why. An instant is all it took for Smith to react. It was the moment training, turned to trouble.

“I just jumped.”

“This kid comes down and he falls off his tube immediately. And goes down,” Smith said. “When he came up, he was actually looking straight at us and he had this look of panic on his face. His hair was down over his face and he was clawing for air, he was trying to get up.”

In the edited video provided to KXAN by ATCEMS, you see the splash. The bob of a head. But Smith says it’s what you won’t hear that people need to keep in mind.

KXAN Reporter Kylie McGivern: “What was very almost eerie and disturbing about this is, it was very quiet.”
Commander Smith: “Exactly. It isn’t like it is in the movies at all… people are screaming for help and this, that, and the other. When people are drowning, and they’re at that base instinct of survival, they don’t have the energy to waste on yelling.”

Smith is a man who has seen a lot, dealing with disaster day in and day out. But this was different. “I was kind of overwhelmed with the feeling that we had done a really good thing, and the fact that it could have been so much worse,” Smith said. “Had somebody not been there, this kid would have likely drowned. And no one would have known where he was. And that’s the thing that’s kinda hard to process and kinda hard to deal with.”

The scary situation served as a reminder of the importance of training for utter chaos, and moments of quiet desperation. Smith said this is the first time a Swiftwater Awareness training for ATCEMS has turned into a real-life rescue.

The child had no major injuries and was reunited with his parents. Commander Smith had a GoPro camera on during training, which allowed him to capture video of the rescue. We’re told the video will be used to create a PSA on how to spot signs of drowning. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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