Frigid, fast moving water threatened the lives of two men Sunday after they fell in the Blackstone River while volunteering for a weekend fundraiser.
Despite the smiles at the end of this year's Storage America Rubber Duck Race to benefit St. Jude Children's Hospital, the event started with a scare when two men wound up stranded in the river. Their canoe capsized while they were trying to set up for the event.
By the time firefighters arrived at the scene, the boaters were holding onto a buoy for dear life.
"We knew that it was like a life-threatening situation," Deputy Chief John Garvey with Central Falls Fire Department said.
Garvey headed to the scene despite being off duty.
"I've lived here all my life. I've seen it moving fast, but not with people in it," he said.
Central Falls and Pawtucket firefighters quickly moved into action to get the men out. Even civilians helped with the rescue effort.
"We couldn't have gotten our boat launched without the volunteers that were there to help us," he said.
The water was moving fast, it was frigid and the men had been wet for quite a while.
"Twenty or so minutes," Garvey said. "Maybe half an hour in 50-degree water. It was not a good situation."
Plus there was another fear.
Firefighters said it was a good thing the men kept holding on because there is a waterfall just yards away.
"If they had to go through that they probably wouldn't have survived," Garvey said.
Luckily, enough ducks were in a row so firefighters could get to the men quickly. They tossed out a life ring and carefully pulled both into the rescue boat.
Safely inside the raft, the men gave each other a hug and their rescuers a pat on the back.
"They were definitely hypothermic," Garvey said. "They were shivering when we got them out of the water and stuff like that."
Wet, cold and shaken, the men were rushed to Rhode Island Hospital for treatment.
After the rescue, firefighters would not allow the duck race to go on as planned. However, the event still went forward across the street.
The money raised will help St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis.