Firefighter rescues 2 men in murky river

August 26, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore firefighter dived to the bottom of the Patapsco River last night and, groping about in murky water in which it was impossible to see, located and rescued two fishermen who had tumbled off a bridge while arguing, fire officials said.

One of the men pulled to safety by Firefighter Joseph Wisniewski died upon arriving at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The other was listed in critical condition this morning at Harbor DTC Hospital Center.

"Our job is to fight fires and save lives," said Firefighter Wisniewski, 42, a 20-year veteran of the department. "I thought those people might have a shot at life if I could get them out of the water quick enough. I gave it my best shot."

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Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman, hailed Firefighter Wisniewski's actions today and said the firefighter has been nominated for a commendation.

"It may have been a situation where we didn't have anyone

strong enough to do the swim and the rescue," Chief Torres said. "It may have called for dispatching a fireboat to the scene. Of course, pressure time would have been lost. I certainly would credit him with saving the one gentleman's life."

The man who died was identified by fire officials as Milford Slowe, 54. The other, identified as James Murphy, 47, was listed in critical condition at Harbor Hospital Center. Addresses were not available.

Firefighter Wisniewski said the incident occurred about 9:30 p.m. He said witnesses told him the two men, apparently good friends, had been arguing about whether to continue fishing off the Patapsco River Bridge, south of the Hanover Street Bridge near the Anne Arundel County line.

"One guy wanted to stay and fish, and other guy wanted to leave," the firefighter said.

When Firefighter Wisniewski pulled up in Engine 35, witnesses pointed to where the two men had fallen in.

He said he walked down to the shore, and still wearing his shirt, pants and shoes, waded into the dark water and swam about 100 yards to the center of the bridge span, aided by a spotlight from a police helicopter.

Once at the spot where the witnesses had seen the men fall, Firefighter Wisniewski dived 10 feet to the bottom and felt his way around until he found one of the two men.

"I grabbed the first guy by the leg," the firefighter said. "It was warm. I knew it was human."

Still holding to the leg, he swam to the surface, and tied a rope around the man, who was then hauled on up to the bridge by other firefighters.

Then Firefighter Wisniewski dived again. "As soon as my hand hit the bottom, I grabbed the guy by the head." A paramedic jumped into the water and helped Firefighter Wisniewski tie a rope around the second victim's chest.

"You couldn't see your hand in front of your face," said the firefighter, who describes himself as a "pretty good" swimmer who even has swum across the Chesapeake Bay. "It was kind of scary. It was almost like something was guiding my hands to find the bodies. What's the odds of grabbing two bodies on two dives?"

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