Police and firefighters got called to the bridge that carries Lawrence Street over the Concord River tonight at 6:41 p.m., for a report that a canoe had capsized and two men were in the water.
Emergency crews found two men, Jay Ouellette and Arnold Bowser, both of Lowell, waist-deep in the river and clinging to rebar that was protruding from the concrete support that holds the bridge up.
“I can’t hold on” one of them screamed several times, though I later realized he may have meant hold on to his canoe, which he refused to let go of.
Firefighters went off in what seemed like less than a minute, and Engine 11 and the Rescue both towed boats to Billerica Street where they put them into the water from the boat ramp.
Firefighters on the bridge threw ropes and life preservers down to the guy in the black shirt, but the guy without a shirt was too far under the bridge. As you can see in the picture below.
Capt. Robert Destrempe and Firefighter Anthony Sabetti, from Engine 3, used one boat to pull the shirtless guy out of the river.
Lt. Larry Ledoux and Firefighter Michael Frost, from Engine 11, used the other boat to pull the guy in the black shirt out.
Below are Ledoux and Frost as they move in to make the rescue. Deputy Chief Robert Flynn said the current under the bridge is tough.
“The current is very strong there because the water kind of funnels in between those supports,” Flynn said. “It’s hazardous because they didn’t have life jackets on to start with.”
Flynn said the men reported that the wake from a power boat capsized their canoe, which is pictured below where it washed up on rocks after the rescue.
Firefighters took both men by boat back to Billerica Street, where paramedics and two Trinity ambulances were waiting.
Neither man was seriously injured, but since both had been in the water for a while they were taken to city hospitals to get checked out.
The initial call was at 6:41 p.m., firefighters attached boats to their trucks, drove to the scene, put two boats in the water, motored down the river and pulled both of these men into the safety of the boats by 6:59 p.m., which is when dispatch tells me Flynn reported both men were in the boats.
That’s 18 minutes, if you’re keeping score.
As you can see in the video, onlookers applauded as the men were taken back to shore.
For perspective on how this could have turned out, I bring you a story that I wrote in 2009.