Portland firefighters swim out to rescue man in Willamette River

Portland firefighters swim out to rescue man in Willamette River
Lt. Brad Cullison helped rescue the man from the Willamette River.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Two Portland firefighters swam into the Willamette River and rescued an 18-year-old man Tuesday night.

Rescuers responded to Kelly Point Park in North Portland after someone called 911 to report a man having trouble swimming in the river just before 8 p.m. Witnesses said the man was swept out about 150 yards from the shore.

While rescue boats were on the way, two firefighters and a bystander swam out to the man and stayed with him until rescuers arrived, according to Portland Fire and Rescue.

Lt. Brad Cullison with Engine 22 was one of those firefighters. A former lifeguard, he said he knew when he saw the young man struggling in the water that he didn't have much time.

"We knew the fireboats were still a way out. The rescue craft were still a way out," he said. "So we just made that calculated risk benefit decision and we just stripped down our clothes, threw on a life vest and started swimming out as fast as we could."

Lt. Cullison also gives credit to the quick thinking of that bystander, the victim's friend, who swam a log out that they propped the victim up on until rescue boats arrived.

"He really needs some credit because that five, ten seconds that he sustained that kid might have been the five seconds that he went underwater. And we would've been doing more than a rescue," said Cullison.

Lt. Cullison's Battalion Chief, Tom Williams added, “Had these firefighters and the bystander not acted quickly this young man would not have survived."

Williams coordinated rescue efforts at the scene.