From tractor to river rescue
A volunteer firefighter who just happened to be passing in his tractor joined colleagues to rescue a hypothermic girl clinging to a bridge pillar in the fast flowing Waikato River.
Nathan Spitzer, 31, was driving past the Ngāruawāhia Fire Station on his tractor around lunchtime yesterday when he heard the town’s fire alarm sounding.
The self-employed rural contractor did a U-turn and swung by to join the crew responding to a call to help a child hanging off a bridge in the Waikato River.
They arrived at the riverbank, off Old Taupiri Rd on the south side of the bridge, around 12.30pm.
‘‘We got there and the police said she’s down in the river, holding on to the pier,’’ the senior firefighter said. ‘‘She was hugging the timber pier shield beneath the bridge.’’
It appeared the eight-year-old had been swimming with others in the river when she was swept downstream. Spitzer didn’t know exactly how long she’d been in the water, but said she appeared to be
‘‘She was hugging the timber pier shield beneath the bridge.’’
bordering on hypothermic. ‘‘She was looking pretty cold and tired.’’
With the nearest rescue boat half an hour away in Huntly, Spitzer stripped to his stubbies, donned a lifejacket and plunged into the water.
‘‘I grabbed her a lifejacket as well and decided to swim over and get her. It was fairly swift but as long as you use your river experience to navigate across.’’
Having been a competitive swimmer for many years, Spitzer felt comfortable in the water and freestyled the 50m to the pier.
He came up behind the girl, asking her if she was okay.
‘‘I told her what I was going to do, put the lifejacket on her and we just drifted across.
‘‘She seemed happy enough and when I said to kick, she kicked. She did well considering she was shaking and shivering.’’
Spitzer swam the girl 150 metres downstream back to the riverbank where other firefighters waded in to grab her.
Ngāruawāhia Fire Chief Karl Lapwood commended the volunteer firefighter’s actions. ‘‘[It was an] absolutely outstanding effort to get in there and rescue her.’’
Due to the girl’s condition, Lapwood said it was safer to rescue the girl immediately, rather than wait for a rescue boat.
‘‘Nathan is a top swimmer, he’s done a lot of swimming and rowing and is a very powerful and fit guy.’’
The girl was whisked away by ambulance and taken to Waikato Hospital in a serious condition, St John said.
Police were looking into how the child came to be swimming at the river and who was with her.