'A whole family is drowning': Londoner honoured for Grand Bend heroics

Bronson Deagle and his family were finishing their last bites of pizza before packing up and leaving a secluded part of Grand Bend beach.

“All right guys, let’s eat the pizza. We got to go soon. It’s almost 4:30 p.m.,” he told his two young daughters, aged six and fouir, during that warm summer day on July 31, 2021.

Air-dried and packed, the family from London was preparing to depart when Deagle’s eldest daughter Adalia decided she wanted to head back into the Lake Huron water one last time.

Deagle, 36 and a firefighter-in-training on holiday at the time, thought: “You know what? It’s the last day of vacation; go ahead.”

Moments after his little girl ran into the water, a woman passing by warned Deagle and his wife, Nicole, then pregnant with their third child, about the strong current. “Be careful,” she told them.

It wasn’t long after when Deagle, keeping a watchful eye on his daughter, noticed another child nearby flailing about, unable to stay upright or swim ashore.

He looked for a lifeguard, but none were around. “That’s when I was getting tense,” he recalled.

Deagle couldn’t wade in and pull the girl out. The waves were too powerful, he said, so he rushed out onto the nearby pier.

“I get to the end of the pier . . . thinking it’s just a little girl to help up at the end. I get there, and a whole family is drowning.”

The four of them — the young girl and boy, a man and woman, all fully clothed — were struggling to stay afloat. The woman lying face down in the water looked “lifeless,” Deagle recalled.

“At that point,” he said, “I’m almost going into shock. I said, ‘Nope. We got to at least save one (person).”

Deagle eventually managed to rescue all four, including performing CPR and back blows to the woman to dislodge the water.

“This woman took the deepest life breaths I’ve ever seen,” he said of the moment her airway was cleared.

Friday, Deagle was honoured by St. John Ambulance for rescuing the Mississauga family at Grand Bend last year.

Members of St. John Ambulance and London Mayor Ed Holder, patron of the ambulance’s Southwestern Ontario Regional Branch, presented him with the prestigious St. John Ambulance Lifesaving Award (Gold) during a ceremony at London city hall. The gold pin is given to individuals who performed lifesaving measures in a situation with a risk to life.

“This is beyond what I was expecting,” Deagle said. “I’m just so grateful to be here in this privileged position, to be able to accept this.”

He added: 'It's only by the grace of God that I'm here today, standing to be able to tell you and to be able to thank you."

Deagle’s actions have displayed “not just grace under pressure” but “class and bravery,” Holder said.

“You’ve made us proud. I think you will be an exceptional professional firefighter should that opportunity arise,” he said.

Sharing his story Friday, Deagle, who has since completed his firefighter training and is hoping to get a position in London, explained how he eventually learned he rescued five people in the water that day, not four.

The Mississauga family, who has remained anonymous since the incident, later told Deagle another young child, who ended up being washed to shore, had grabbed hold of the unconscious woman while he was pulling her to safety.

“I didn’t even realize I had three people,” he said.

Officials at the ceremony applauded Deagle for his quick thinking and lifesaving efforts.

“It’s clear from the written, verbal recollections of the incident that Bronson’s rapid intervention, persistence, and courage, saved no less than four people and quite possibly five from drowning,” said Don Denne, chair of the St. John Ambulance Southwestern Ontario Regional Branch.

The ceremony was held on Remembrance Day after hundreds gathered at the Victoria Park cenotaph in London to lay wreaths and honour veterans. “It feels like it's such an honour and blessing to receive this award on such a historic day,” Deagle said.

He was joined by family, including his wife, three kids, mother and twin sister. “He’s my dad, and he’s a superhero,” Adalia, now seven, said proudly.

“For lack of a better word, it feels surreal,” his wife Nicole said of the recognition. “I just hope that people draw inspiration from (his story),” she said.

cleon@postmedia.com

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The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press