A group of heroic firefighters who saved a woman from drowning in the River Shannon in Limerick city, told how they were able to rescue the woman after being “promptly” alerted to the scene by gardaí.
The firefighters reminded the public that, contacting Limerick’s fire service immediately after seeing someone in distress in the river will give that person “a fighting chance” of survival.
Peter Murphy said he and his fellow fireman, Des Fitzgerald, literally saved the woman by her “fingertips” after she disappeared under the water’s surface in the early hours of last Saturday morning.
Seconds after the woman went under, Murphy and Fitzgerald, supported by their colleague Colin Gleeson, jumped out of their rapid response river rescue boat “Fireswift” into the cold dark river shortly after responding to the 4.30am alert from their firehouse on Mulgrave Street.
Our City Station Crews were mobilised by Munster Regional Control to reports of a person in the River Shannon. FireSwift was launched by our SwiftWater Rescue Technicians & successfully rescued the person from the water. #notjustfires pic.twitter.com/DbFp3BRjs1— Limerick Fire (@LimerickFire) April 8, 2018
“As we approached the casualty, myself, Des and Colin, saw she had gone sub-surface, so it left us with no option really but for two of us to enter the water. It was literally a finger tip save,” Murphy said.
“She had gone (under), with her hands over her head, so Des caught one hand and I caught the other hand. We managed to get her into the boat and back to safety,” he added.
Last year Limerick City Fire Service received over 50 calls of people in distress in the river.
However, this rescue was different to most others, as Murphy and Fitzgerald, who normally retrieve a casualty from the water from the safety of their boat, had to jump into the raging river to save the woman.
“One of the rules is that, you don't enter the water if you have the boat, but, at the time, situation dictates, and you have to do your own risk assessment, and see what's best for the casualty to try and get them back,” Murphy explained.
“Conditions were poor, and it was pitch black. It was 4.30 in the morning, and the tide was ripping, so you had a desperate flow going out. Visibility was very very poor.”
The three firemen, backed up by their colleagues on land, are all trained as Swift Water Rescue Technicians (SRTs). They used all of their combined 26 years experience to keep calm in the midst of the murky, cold, intense river.
“The River Shannon, going through Limerick, is probably one of the most dangerous stretches of water in Europe. We train for every event, known to man, on that river. When it comes to the training and quality of the swift water rescue technicians, Limerick is second to none,” Murphy said.
He added: “River calls are always the same here. When we get a person reported in the river, the adrenaline is running through the whole crew.”
Shrugging off the tag of being a “hero”, Murphy added: “To be honest, it's something we do on a regular basis, it's what we train for.”
“It's brilliant when we (save someone). Everyone plays a part, whether it's the control centre; or any member of the crew. It's something we are training for everyday; it's something we love, and that's why we joined the service.”
Reminding the public how mere seconds really count when tasked with responding to a possible life-threatening rescue scenario on the river, Murphy said: “Early detection is the key for us, because we know we can be on the water within four minutes, and whoever enters the water in Limerick has a fighting chance if we are mobilised to that call.”
The fire service works in conjunction with Limerick Marine Search and Rescue Service, which is also alerted to river rescue operations by gardai and the Coastguard.
With the fire service actively recruiting new members, Acting Station Officer, Peter O’Toole, said the job is tough, but extremely rewarding: “We're obviously looking for the basics - physical fitness, intelligence, problem solving, work well with a team, take direction well, and be able to stay cool under pressure.”
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