Resort, fire department comment on death at Chena Hot Springs pool

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) On August 25th, a 54-year-old man died in the rock pool at Chena Hot Springs. Fire Chief Scott Learned, with Steese Volunteer Fire Department, says they received report of a drowning at about 3 p.m. at Chena Hot Springs and responded with an ambulance and support vehicles at about 3:56 p.m. due to the distance.

On August 25th, a 54-year-old man died in the rock pool at Chena Hot Springs. Bernie Karl, co-owner of the resort at Chena Hot Springs give his comments on the death of a patron in the hot springs rock pool. Fire Chief Scott Learned also gives his comments about the situation and gives safety recommendations. (John Dougherty/KTVF)

"We were advised that the resort had found an individual floating in the rock pool. He had been pulled from the pool and that CPR had been in progress by bystanders the entire time that we had been responding. Once we got on scene and made contact with the patient, it was determined the patient was deceased," said Learned. The scene was then turned over to the Alaska State Troopers who are investigating the cause of death. While the investigation is still ongoing, troopers have released the name of the man, Alvaro Islas Guzman of Las Vegas.

Co-owner of the Chena Hot Springs Resort, Bernie Karl, said that Guzman was a regular.

A bystander of the incident at the hot springs wrote on Facebook some observations about the resort's emergency preparedness. The bystander Brenda Riley wrote on Facebook stating several observations about how the incident was handled, including:

“The CHS staff was untrained in first aid/CPR/Emergency response.

The staff didn't shut down or clear the springs, in fact, they kept charging people to keep coming in. Incoming dippers were directed to climb over the landscaping rocks to get into the pool.

No first aid kit was on hand. What little supplies were found were because bystanders began combing through drawers and cabinets.

The staff didn't know there was a backboard (I asked) and when it was found at the far end of the pool, the buckles were rusted shut.

Only one AED was found and it died shortly after being put into use.”

When asked if the resort is prepared for emergencies of this kind, Karl said ‘absolutely.’

“The bystander is totally mistaken, I want to say that the only thing that was true that [she] said was that the buckles were rusted on the backboard, that’s the only thing that was true in that statement,” said Karl.

Karl said the staff at Chena Hot Springs is trained and prepared for these emergency situations.

“Absolutely, so we have over half the staff is trained, they have CPR, first aid, know how to use the heart machine, and [she] was totally mixed up when [she] said the heart machine wasn’t there and didn’t work, that was total nonsense, didn’t know where it was at, our manager Jena Gavora personal went and got it so that’s what I know about that stuff, just fallacy total fallacy,” said Karl.

Learned said the AED machine was not used due to the patient being in a damp environment being pulled out of the pool and pulled onto the walkway of the pool, that they did not use the AED for fear that they may have issues with possibly being shocked. Learned said because of poor communication out at the hot springs, he had to stay in his vehicle so he could use his cell phone and communicate with his crew via radio, so he did not see the scene himself.

In response to the observation that customers were continued to let in while the emergency situation was occurring, Karl said they were only let in after the scene was secured.

“We have people that drive 60 miles, the threat was taken care of, it was blocked off, nobody went in to where he was at, and they went around where the hot tub is and entered into the rock lake from another place, there was no reason, nobody got in until the place was secured, they secured that walk way, so again that was total nonsense,” said Karl.

“It was a very busy Sunday afternoon, sunny, there was a lot of customers at the area, again I can’t speak to what was actually happening where the patient was, because again I didn’t get in to that area but there was a lot of activity in the area, a lot of people around. A number of people came up just asked what was going on, that sort of thing, again I didn’t actually see what was going on where the patient was,” said Learned.

Learned says that although they do not get actively involved in emergency preparedness for businesses, if anyone wanted any suggestions of how to be better prepared for emergencies until first responders can arrive on scene.

“Fairbanks is a large community, and it’s a large area to cover and we do the best we can given the resources we have and unfortunately events like this do happen but when you do partake in events in rural areas you have to expect that you’re not going to have immediate response, we have the best response we can give you but again the distances involved, it just takes a while for us to get there sometimes. So having bystanders that did CPR gave the individual the best possible chance he had of surviving,” said Learned.

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