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Multi-agency response saves woman’s life in the Columbia River

By Bridget Chavez

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    VANCOUVER, Washington (KPTV) — A multi-agency response between Portland Fire & Rescue, the Vancouver Fire Department and the Coast Guard is what saved a woman’s life.

The morning of November 9, she fell off of the I-205 Bridge and into the Columbia River. The call came in just before 7:00 a.m. Captain Nick Lazzaretto, of VFD, and his crew, had just started their shift.

“We had a marker where she fell from and so Portland Engine 2 had dropped a drop mark with a cone on it which marked the spot for Rescue Boat 17 so we had a visual of what her last known location was,” Lazzaretto said. The three agencies began a coordinated search to find the woman.

Lazzaretto said it was his pilot who spotted the side of the woman’s face barely bobbing out of the water.

“She turned her head this way and that ‘s when we picked her up because we were coming from this direction,” he said. The crew found the woman clinging to the last rung of a ladder. They lowered the ramp of their rescue boat to reach her, and pulled her to safety.

“She still had grip so we knew that she was alive so that was good and just trying to figure out what her injuries might be as we’re pulling her on as careful as possible but at that point you just got to get her out of the water,” Lazzaretto said. He estimated that the woman fell about 80 feet.

“It’s fairly shallow and I mean she could have sustained any number of injuries despite the hypothermia which would have just compounded it but yeah no obvious injuries so she was very fortunate,” Lazzaretto said. Right now the water in the Columbia is about 54 degrees and Lazzaretto said the ladder played a big role in saving her life.

“The outcome would have been much worse if she would have had to try to swim,” he said. “Once we got her on the deck and we realized we don’t see any obvious injuries the hypothermia thing is the thing that’s most concerning we got her in the wheel house and dressed her up in some warming blankets and brought her body temperature back up.” He said it was the combined efforts of all three agencies that helped get the woman to safety.

“It makes us feel good to be able to come to work, use the assets that we have and to use them to actually help save somebody’s life. It was a good feeling yesterday for the whole crew and everybody that was involved,” he said. The woman was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation.

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