Hero fireman: Daring river rescue in Limerick 'not a big deal'

A hero fireman who jumped from a bridge into the River Shannon to save a woman from drowning has praised others involved in the dramatic river rescue.

Hero fireman: Daring river rescue in Limerick 'not a big deal'

A hero fireman who jumped from a bridge into the River Shannon to save a woman from drowning has praised others involved in the dramatic river rescue.

Fire-fighter Eli Brace -- who is one of around 50 members of Limerick City Fire and Rescue Service specifically trained to perform river rescues -- jumped off Sarsfield Bridge in Limerick city seconds before the woman would have been swept under the water's surface.

The brave fireman said: "I just jumped at the bridge and that's the bit that everybody seems to be focusing on. It is part of our training."

"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 yesterday and it was, 'Well done Eli', and that's it. There's no more said about it. Only for Sean (Curtin) taking the picture nobody would have known anything about it," he added modestly.

Praising his colleagues, he added: "There are lads in here that go into fires everyday and they go into the river everyday and they never get any thanks for it. So, its good that we are getting this highlighted, 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."

Eli explained how busy it is for the Fire and Rescue Service, saying they had come from an apartment fire and straight into the river rescue yesterday.

He said: "This morning we have just come from a 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 to the potentially deadly situation yesterday evening.

"We were just after coming back from an apartment fire, so we were only in the door two minutes, and normally (in emergency alerts) an alarm will go off here (in the fire station) and we'll get a print-out from the machine telling us what the emergency is. But with a river rescue, it comes over the tannoy system, saying 'River Rescue'. With the river rescue there is a greater sense of urgency and time is of the essence."

Officer Brace, 36, who was 11 years in the Army before switching careers to the fire service six years ago, explained how most of the 60 or so members of the Limerick fire service are qualified as Swift Water Rescue Technicians (SRTs) so they can respond within seconds to river rescue situations.

The SRTs wear special suits which keep give them more support to deal with water rescues.

He said: "They keep us floating in the water and they are highly visible, so if something goes wrong, we can be seen. They also give us the ability to support someone in the water. If we do get to somebody we don't have to try and tread the water - we can just basically lie back and they can lie across our chests and then its a matter of the rest of the guys getting to us."

The Shannon-based Coast Guard Rescue Helicopter 115 was on hand to help out in the river rescue, but despite dispatching a winchman 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 (woman) 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 (river's) current, he (winchman) couldn't get to her," he said.

[comment] Eli Brace (left), who jumped off Shannon bridge this evening, and Colm Costelloe of the Swiftwater Rescue Team. (Picture: Sean Curtin)[/comment]

"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."

Officer Brace added: "We train for this. We are qualified Swift Water Rescue Technicians. We train on the river and we train in UL (University of Limerick) so we are used to the river conditons and we have jumped off the bridge in training exercises, so I knew the water was high enough, there was no danger there to me whatsoever."

He also praised the quick response of a local boatman, Joe Cantillon of St Michael's Rowing Club, who was on hand to help in the rescue.

Eli said: "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 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."

"All we do when we get the call is go out and do the best we can and we come away home out of it."

Officer Brace -- who was also praised three years ago by the city's mayor for carrying out a similar river rescue of another woman -- said the fire service is using two rafts on the river and hopes to secure a boat later this year.

"We are busy for the river. At the moment we are hopeful of getting our own boat on the river. So, when that happens, hopefully our response times on the river will get even quicker for rescues and make things a lot safer for us as well."

However, he added, he and his fellow SRTs have to use their dry suits more often than not when responding to emergencies on the river.

He said: "At the moment we have two rafts and we can paddle on the rafts or we can swim with the SRT, so we have different lines of defence. We can throw the person a line too, and our last resort is to actually swim to them, but sometimes the last resort is the first thing you have to do because they are too far out (on the river) to throw them a bag, or, if they are unresponsive you have to go get them, and usually we swim with a line attached to us so when we get to the person the other members are able to pull you in. Sometime there isn't time for a line and you just have to go with it."

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