Just too nice a day to die


By Eric Norberg
The Bee, Mar 5, 2008

Eric Norberg / THE BEE
Portland Fireboat 6 arrived after the rescue was completed by the fire department’s jet ski, partially visible behind the fireboat at the end of the dock. By this time, the unidentified woman had been brought to the dock on the jet ski and was now being examined by AMR ambulance paramedics nearby.

With high pressure in place, and an east wind clearing out the fog which had lingered the previous day, the morning of Sunday, February 17, dawned sunny and clear — with hardly a cloud in the sky.

But the first really gorgeous day of 2008 still seemed pretty dark to one unidentified woman, who pulled her car over, northbound on the top deck of the Marquam Bridge, left her purse on the seat of her car, and jumped over the edge into the water far below.

Apparently, nobody saw her take the long drop into the cold Willamette River facing the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, so it is not clear how long she was in the water, but it couldn’t have been long.

At 9:56 am, police received a report of a stopped car on the Marquam Bridge. It could have been a stalled motorist; but when an officer arrived to check the car two minutes later, and found a purse on the seat and nobody around, Portland Fire and Rescue was notified that ther

e could be someone in the water.
Downtown Fire Station 1 has a specialty rescue team whose equipment includes a jet ski, which has proven extremely helpful for successful rescues since it was donated to the city by businessman Dennis Sioravanti in April of 2005. It’s stationed on the westside seawall, between the Morrison and Burnside Bridges — and in just two minutes, firefighters Jarod Fitzgerald and Ben Lyford had their dive suits on and were launching the jet ski.

Meantime, Engine 4 was dispatched to the vehicle atop the Marquam Bridge, and Fire Boat 6 was launched to head for the scene of the “possible drowning”.

At 10:03 am, the fire department jet ski was on-scene, and had spotted a shoe floating in the river under the bridge. With this evidence that someone had indeed jumped into the river, the firefighters on the jet ski expanded their search near the bridge.

The woman who had jumped was wearing dark clothing, and neither the men on the jet ski nor bystanders at OMSI or in a kayak in the river could see her. But, losing that shoe helped save her life. She was wearing white socks, and the rescuers on the jet ski spotted a patch of white in the river and headed towards it — it was the sock the woman had been wearing under that shoe, still on her foot.

By 10:05, the men on the jet ski had located the woman in the river — they reported by radio that she was floating on her back, and unlike most who fall from such a height into the river, she was alive. At 10:10 am they had the woman on the submarine dock at OMSI.

There, paramedics rushed her to an AMR ambulance, and after an examination, pronounced her “conscious and alert, with no obvious injuries”. However, having experienced the impact of a high fall into water, she was presumed critical with possible internal injuries, and was taken to University Hospital at OHSU, where the unidentified woman’s condition has not been revealed, due to new privacy laws.

Her life saved by the socks she chose to wear that day, the woman also benefited by the 2005 donation of a jet ski to the Portland Fire Bureau by a public-spirited businessman. Portland Fire spokesman Lt. Alan Oswalt noted that that jet ski has proven essential in many successful rescues, including this one. He commented, “If she had had to wait in the cold water for the fireboat to arrive, it probably would have been a recovery, instead of a rescue”.

And, the woman who had sought to end her life on a beautiful day was saved by one more thing.

During practice the preceding week, the fire department’s jet ski had developed a malfunction and had been taken to S.K. Northwest for repair. While it was in the shop, S.K. Northwest had offered the fire department a free loaner, and it was the loaner which was used to make this rescue. Had the loaner not been available, the woman would not have survived her experience, either.

With so much good fortune having contributed to saving her life, the fire department is hoping the unidentified woman rethinks the circumstances which had led to her suicide attempt, and will choose, now, to continue living.