HOLIDAY SHORES - Firefighters may have saved the life of the maintenance supervisor for Holiday Shores Lake after his leg became lodged between a boat and a drainage valve Wednesday, trapping him in a whirlpool of frigid water for an hour.
"Hypothermia (extreme cold) was definitely an issue. It was looking pretty grim," said an onlooker familiar with rescue operations. "The firefighters worked their butts off."
The wind chill was 35 degrees when Jim Perotti of Holiday Shores went into the water.
He was up to his knees when he first went in, but by the time firefighters got him out, the cold water was up around his head.
Perotti was airlifted from the scene about 2:30 p.m. after finally being freed from his predicament.
The incident began as Perotti was working from a boat to remove debris from a large drainage pipe that comes into play when the water in Holiday Shores Lake becomes excessively high. On Wednesday, the area around the pipe resembled water going down a huge bathtub drain, but with much more force. Perotti's boat got sucked into the drain, and his leg became lodged between the submerged boat and a grate covering an outtake valve connected to the pipe. An associate apparently dialed 911 about 1:20 p.m.
Dolly Wood, an employee of Holiday Shores Realty, said she saw the Holiday Shores rescue boat go by her office and went to the scene.
"I was anxious and scared and feeling helpless," Wood said.
She said her friend was in trouble.
"It's pretty forceful right there," she said as she watched the rescue effort.
One of the rescuers, volunteer firefighter Dave Jacoby of Holiday Shores, said he was at home when the alarm came in.
"I shot out the door," he said.
He said he and other firefighters manually worked on freeing the leg, and firefighters tied ropes around Perotti in an attempt to free him. When that didn't work, they returned to their trucks to retrieve some log chains to aid in the effort.
"That added some extra oomph," Holiday Shores Fire Chief Steve Cooper said.
Jacoby and the other firefighters used special ice rescue suits to enter the water to get Perotti free.
"We bought them several years ago and have trained on them, but this is the first time we've ever used them in a real emergency situation," Cooper said. "It was money well-spent."
Once they freed Perotti, the job of getting him out of the water went fairly quickly. Firefighters quickly removed his clothes to dry him off before covering him with blankets. He was turning pink and shaking like a leaf when his clothes were removed.
"Hang in there, Jim," Wood said.
"Thanks Dolly," Perotti responded.
"I think I broke my leg in two places," he said as firefighters worked to dry him off. Perotti was alert and conscious while being placed in the ARCH Air Medical Service helicopter.
He was airlifted to Saint Louis University Hospital, where he was listed in serious condition Wednesday evening.
Republished with permission from The Telegraph