Firefighter Eli Brace — who is one of around 50 members of Limerick City Fire and Rescue Service trained to perform river rescues — jumped off Sarsfield Bridge, Limerick City, seconds before the woman would have been swept underwater.
“I just jumped at the bridge and that’s the bit that everybody seems to be focusing on. It is part of our training,” he said.
“In here, rescues are not a big deal. OK, it’s a big deal if the girl is OK and she is fine [afterwards] and we’re delighted with that.
“But, everybody in here does this stuff week in week out. You come back and it was, ‘Well done Eli’, and that’s it. There’s no more said about it. Only for Seán [Curtin] taking the picture nobody would have known anything about it.”
Praising his colleagues, he added: “There are lads in here that go into fires every day and they go into the river every day and they never get any thanks for it. So, its good that we are getting this high-lighted, because it does no harm to the fire service and put it out there the stuff that we do. We are going the whole time.
“We had come from an apartment fire and straight into that [river rescue] and this morning we have just come from an RTA [road traffic accident] and we are taking little kids out of a car. It’s busy but it’s very rewarding, there’s no other job like it. There is great guys and girls working here.”
The married father- of-two from Ennis, Co Clare, described how he and three other specially trained water rescue fire officers were part of an emergency response on Saturday evening.
The Shannon-based Coast Guard Rescue Helicopter 115 was on hand and dispatched a winchman, but he could not reach the woman. Officer Brace then had to make a split-second decision to jump from the bridge.
“We arrived onto Sarsfield Bridge and the helicopter was over her and they were making an attempt to get her up and down from the water, but I think that, between the wind and their rotor blades and the current, he [winchman] couldn’t get to her,” he said.
“There’s a lot of luck involved really. We need to get good information from whoever gives us the call and the people in 999 pass the information to us as clearly as they get it.
“As I say the helicopter couldn’t get to her and she was coming towards me on the bridge, so I just jumped in. That was it.
“When I jumped I just hit the water and I started swimming towards her. She was coming towards me, and as I was swimming towards her Joe Cantillion from St Michael’s [Rowing Club] came past, and he got to her and by the time he got his hands on her I was on her legs lifting her into the boat with him. It all happened really quick.
“That was it then, we took her down to St Michael’s and got her out of the boat. That was it. She was conscious the whole way down the river so there was no need for CPR and then the ambulance service took over.”