January 25, 2021 started no differently than any other day. Johnathon Truong (Chemist) and Carlos Aldape Torres (Lab Tech) from the Pollution Assessment Section in LASAN's Watershed Protection Division were out doing routine collections of water samples and calibration of their equipment. Due to their location, they received a call to stop by the Wilmington Drain to conduct routine maintenance on the auto-sampling equipment in preparation for the upcoming storm.
LASAN's 6x6x36 stainless steel refrigerated cabinet is situated discreetly on the side of the channel, containing equipment such as pumps and sample jars. There is also a modem to provide flow levels in real-time to LASAN's lab. Water levels trigger the equipment in the cabinet to pull samples from the drainage channel, which are stored the refrigerated to be collected and analyzed for pollutants. To maintain LASAN's MS4 permit, sampling is done at roughly 35 locations for a minimum of three storms each year. The water in the channel flows from storm drains throughout the area and empties into Machado Lake.
Upon Johnathon and Carlos' arrival, the water level was higher than normal due to rain the day before.
They noticed a man walking along PCH in their direction, who went down the opposite side of the bank from the monitoring station and entered the water in order to bathe. By the time Johnathon and Carlos exited their vehicles to perform their work, they noticed the man was in the water, and seemed to be struggling to keep his head above water. It appeared that the man was not able to swim. Johnathon and Carlos called several times to the man to see if he needed help, but did not get a clear answer. Carlos called 911, as Johnathon made his way down the same path that the man had entered the water from.
He decided to jump in to help the man. From the slippery bank, there was a steep drop off into the frigid water, and Johnathon was not able to touch the bottom. He swam out eight feet to the man and brought him back to shore, where Carlos and a passing driver were there to help pull them onto the bank to rest. Soon after, paramedics and a fire truck arrived on the scene to assist. The paramedics questioned the man to determine his condition, and eventually he left on his own. Johnathon was also checked out but suffered no injuries, though he did swallow some water. As a precaution, he will be working from home as he self-quarantines.
“As city servants, we have the duty and responsibility to protect the public health and environment, but as human beings we also have the responsibility to go beyond that and help each other. Saving the life of this person is a simple act of kindness and courage from everyone involved and we hope people take this as an example to help one another” - Statement from Johnathon and Carlos
"We are so proud of Johnathon and Carlos. This was an incredible act of bravery and courage." - Enrique C. Zaldivar, Director and GM of LA Sanitation.