LAFD Captain John Marasco

LAFD Captain John Marasco

A day of fun to escape from the blistering Arizona heat would have turned tragic for one family if a Los Angeles firefighter hadn’t been in just the right place.

It was 105 degrees outside when LAFD Captain John Marasco slid into an inner tube and slowly made his way down the Salt River in Arizona. He was there vacationing with a big group of friends for a 40th birthday party. The relaxing day was supposed to be a “booze cruise on tubes,” but it was so hot Marasco never even cracked open a beer.

“I actually didn’t drink at all. It was crazy hot. I was roasting in the sun,” Marasco said later.

It was one decision of many that led to his ability to save a life.

Marasco’s group was about to reach the last point to get out of the river when he began looking around for his wife. The former navy sailor was worried his group would miss their chance to get out of the river after the four hour float.

“We were floating through a section that got kind of rough and there are a lot of trees in the water,” Marasco said. As he looked around, his friend Amanda suddenly screamed.

Then he saw the terrifying incident.

Mother & Son Struggled to Stay Afloat

Salt River Rescue

Salt River, AZ

A mother was flailing in the water, her four year old son was also gasping for air. They had flipped their inner tube and in her struggle to keep her head above water the mother was pulling her son down with her.

“She couldn’t swim,” Marasco said. He immediately jumped into action, leaving his tube and his sandals to the current as he swam to help a drowning family he had never met.

As Marasco reached the mother, he pulled her head out of the water and she suddenly went limp.

“She wasn’t passed out but she had given up,” Marasco said. “She had used every ounce of energy to keep going.”

With his other arm he scooped up the boy and pushed him onto a tube. He told two other girls floating with the family to hold on and not let go.

The strong swimmer then brought the entire family to shallow water, including the mother who couldn’t move. Once they were close to the shore, Marasco’s friends helped bring the family the rest of the way to safety.

Once they were on dry land, Marasco said the gravity of the situation hit the mother. It turned out none of the family members were good swimmers and didn’t realize how dangerous the water could be.

Special Commendation - River Rescue

Award Ceremony

LAFD Captain John Marasco Awarded a Special Commendation for River Rescue

As for Marasco, he was just relieved he was there to help – and that his friend Amanda had let out that scream. Everyone knew the day would have turned tragic if the rescue swimmer hadn’t been there to save the day.

“I don’t even want to think about it,” Marasco said. “I hope the kid grows up to be president, you know? Does something great with his life.”

In 2017, Marasco received a Special Commendation from the Los Angeles Fire Department for the rescue.

By Kate Cagle

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