Skip to Main Content View Text-Only

The City of Portland, Oregon

Fire & Rescue

Always Ready, Always There

Phone: 503-823-3700

Fax: 503-823-3710

55 SW Ash Street, Portland, OR 97204

More Contact Info

Subscribe to RSS feed

Most Recent

View Less

PF&R In the News: Portland Firefighters Risk Their Lives, Rescue Man From Frigid Willamette River

1 Comment


Portland Fire & Rescue - IN THE NEWS

By: Lynne Terry, The Oregonian

January 26, 2012

Portland Firefighters Risk Their Lives, Rescue Man From Frigid Willamette River

Portland, OR: Portland firefighters pulled a man from the frigid, swift Willamette River about midnight Wednesday in a perilous rescue that threatened to take at least two men’s lives.

It’s not known how or when the 30-year-old man, Joel Hinrichs, fell into the swollen, murky river, but his screams for help were heard about 11:15 p.m. by a Portland cyclist, Dan Sinclair, who was riding south along the Eastbank Esplanade. Sinclair spotted Hinrichs thrashing in the current about 25 yards offshore near the Burnside Bridge and darted to Fire Station 21 at the Hawthorne Bridge for help.

Portland firefighters from Station 1 conducted a rescue drill yesterday in the Willamette River. Firefighters on personal watercrafts practiced pulling teammates to safety. High water and debris make for a dangerous mix. Wednesday a man was pulled from the river and saved.

Brent Wojahn/The Oregonian

Two men onshore who were fishing for sturgeon, Sam Policar and Justin Wisdom, tried to snag the man with a hook and reel him to the bank. The river’s currents pushed him closer as Wisdom poked one of his coat sleeves through a fence, allowing the man to grab it.

Just then Portland firefighters Mike Held and Bill Schimel raced up in a personal watercraft. With Held steering, Schimel dangled off the platform on the back, trying to grab Hinrichs. But he was so big, about 200 pounds, and the currents were so swift that Schimel was having a tough time. A 34-year-old rescue swimmer, Schimel had to dive into the water to get a hold of Hinrichs.

That was treacherous.

The current swept over them toward a massive field of logs about 100 yards downstream. Schimel knew if he lost his grip, Hinrichs would slide under the debris and be killed. Schimel risked being towed under, too.

"The water was the worse I’ve seen it," Schimel said. "We got submerged a couple of times with the current ripping up against us."

He said it was the most dangerous rescue he's experienced in his 12 years as a Portland firefighter.

Held, realizing the peril, got Policar to lean over the railing onshore and hold the craft steady while he let go of the handle bars and jumped back to the platform. Also a big guy, Held took Schimel’s hand and pulled him up, and together they rescued Hinrichs.

Hinrichs, clearly intoxicated and bleeding from gashes in his head, was fully clothed, with boots, jacket and backpack. 

“He was out of it,” Schimel said.

Held sped to the Hawthorne Bridge fire station where Hinrichs was lifted onto the dock and treated by medics.

He was taken to OHSU Hospital. A spokesman said today he is in fair condition.

Schimel is fine, too.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that too much longer and he would have slipped away,” Schimel said. “But it worked out so I’m happy.”


  Portland Fire & Rescue 

   We Respond: Always Ready, Always There

   January 27, 2012 


Follow Portland Fire & Rescue on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube

1 Comment


Alice Busch

January 27, 2012 at 2:25 PM

Who wrote this press release? It is GREAT! Love the language and descriptive phrasing, made me WANT to read it. Very well done!

Please review our Code of Conduct rules before posting a comment to this site.
Report Abuse (Please include the specific topic and comment for the fastest response/resolution.)

Post a Comment
E-mail (visible to admins only)
 Remember Info Yes   No
Spam Prevention In the Pacific Northwest, what state is Portland in?