Ontario Firefighters Rescue Girl Trapped in Well

ONTARIO, Canada -- Two Haldimand County firefighters from Cayuga are being hailed heroes after participating in a safe and speedy rescue of a nine-year-old Hamilton girl who fell about 20 metres down a well near York, Monday.

Station No. 4 volunteer firefighters Richard Carr and his wife Elaine Elliott, as well as Haldimand County Emergency Medical Services paramedics Shannon Spoelstra and Paul Otterman, took centre stage during a news conference at EMS headquarters in Dunnville Tuesday.

The rescue of the unnamed girl began shortly after noon on Monday. She was submerged in cold water up to her neck and hanging on to a 2.5-centimetre-diameter pipe that ran down the inside of the well.

"She was very conscious which gave me relief because it meant we had a little extra time," Elliott said. "She asked if we were going to get her out and that she thought her arm was broken."

While Elliott threw a life preserver down to the girl and continued to talk to her, Carr did a scan of the scene to determine if the width of the well would allow for a firefighter to be lowered down, and to determine if the yard was large enough to allow positioning of a fire truck and rigging system over the well.

"I did a quick sizeup and was relieved that it was a doable rescue," Carr said during the news conference.

"The fire department responded quickly and it only took minutes to get the equipment set up."

"It was an amazing team effort."

By coincidence, just two weeks earlier, Station No. 4 had conducted a practice drill for a confined space rescue using the equipment employed in Monday's rescue.

Also this year Carr decided to keep his dry suit, used for scuba diving and ice rescues, in his car instead of leaving it at home.

When all the rescue equipment was in place, Carr, an active member of Station No. 4 since 2000, was lowered into the well. "Looking down I could see her face and that she was floating just above shoulder level and was hanging onto a black pipe coming out of the water," Carr said. "I had the pleasure of having a rope attached to me so I imagine it was a very isolated feeling for her down there. There was limited light and the water was cold.

"She asked if we would be able to get her out and if she would be able to go to school the next day," he said. "She told me she felt her arm was broken and that she wanted us to get her out soon because she was getting cold. The fact that she's strong willed and spirited helped her. She's a real fighter."

When Carr reached the girl, he used rope to help secure her and positioned his legs under her to help lift her out of the water. While she was showing weakness from hypothermia the young girl remained quite calm throughout the ordeal.

"She was scared, but she wasn't crying," the 46-year-old firefighter said. "She handled the situation very well. I could tell she was a fighter, a very determined girl."

The rescue was completed within 20 minutes of the firefighters' arrival.

Haldimand EMS paramedics immediately began treating the young girl for a broken left arm and hypothermia. She was transported to West Haldimand General Hospital in Hagersville and was still under observation at McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton as of Tuesday.

The water was estimated to be 45 to 50 degrees Celsius. Carr said the fact the girl was wearing a down-filled parka and winter boots when she fell into the well probably helped prevent further hypothermia.

While Carr said the sun seemed to shine a bit brighter for him on Tuesday morning, he still didn't feel like a hero.

"I was lucky to be involved and all the people involved in the services share in this rescue," he said.

"I was just the one who put on the suit and went down. Everyone did what they were asked to do and that leads to a good rescue. "I'm no more a hero than anyone in the station or Haldimand County or any firefighter out there," Carr added. "We all train and do sacrifices. It was a big team effort with everyone there and ready to go."

Carr said the successful rescue, which could have had quite a different end result, was a combination of luck, hard work by the fire department and a good supportive system for training.

"That practice we did two weeks before was invaluable," he said. "A lot of what you practise you will never use, but you need to practise so you can adapt to different situations. It all came together during that rescue."

Elliott agreed that the training by Haldimand County volunteer firefighters contributed to the successful rescue.

"The wide scope of training we do absolutely helps," she said.

"Everyone worked so well together. We all wanted her out safe."

Haldimand County fire Chief Rob Grimwood praised the efforts of emergency personnel for the safe and speedy rescue. "I could not be prouder of the firefighters, paramedics and police of Haldimand County," he said.

"They pulled together years of training and adapted their skills to complete this unique rescue. To complete this rescue in 20 minutes is nothing short of incredible. It was a real team effort to pull off such a dynamite rescue."

Grimwood said Haldimand County would be recognizing all those involved in the rescue at a future date. Photos taken at the scene will be used in future training and will be shared with other fire departments.

Republished with permission of The Welland Tribune.

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