NEWS RELEASE 01/26/12: Portland Firefighters Perform Perilous Nighttime Water Rescue in Willamette River
At 11:15 pm, Dan Sinclair was riding his bicycle along the Eastbank Esplanade headed southbound when he heard a voice calling for help from the river below. Upon scanning the water, he spotted someone splashing in the Willamette River about 25 yards off shore.
Sinclair immediately rode his bike the short distance to Portland Fire Station 21 (Eastbank/Hawthorne Bridge) to alert firefighters that someone needed help. Also on shore were two men, Sam Policar and Justin Wisdom, who were sturgeon fishing. While Sinclair went for help, Policar and Wisdom attempted to hook onto the man with their fishing lines to pull him to shore. Fortunately, the river’s current pushed the struggling man closer to shore. Wisdom took off his coat, poked one of his coat sleeves through a fence, and the man was able to grab on.
Portland firefighters responded fromStation 21with the Eldon Trinity rescue boat and from Station 1 (OldTown) with a rescue craft, which is operated by a driver and a rescue swimmer. Rescue Craft 1 spotted the man in the water where Wisdom was struggling to hold onto the man and water rushed over his body.
As Rescue Craft 1 driver Mike Held came alongside the man, Bill Schimel, a 12-year veteran of Portland Fire & Rescue, slid into the water and attempted to pull the man onto the platform of the water craft.
With the current running swift and high, Schimel began struggling to hang onto the man and pull him to safety. As the craft drifted along with the current, Held called upon Policar to assist him in steadying the craft from shore while he helped Schimel pull the man onto the rescue craft.
"I knew that if I lost my grip on him, he would drift under a massive debris field of logs that was floating just 100 yards downstream and likely be pulled under," said Schimel. "In my 12 years as a firefighter, this was the most dangerous rescue I’ve ever taken part in."
Firefighter Held immediately returned toStation 21where firefighter/paramedics administered aid to the man and he was transported to Oregon Health Sciences University. It is unknown how the man in his 30’s ended up on the water.