A paramedic with the New York Fire Department is being hailed as a hero after he put his own life at risk to save that of another who was on the verge of drowning in the frigid Hudson River on Saturday, but this isn’t the first time he has done so.
According to The Tribeca Trib, 40-year-old FDNY paramedic Niall O’Shaughnessy was driving on the West Side Highway with his partner when they spotted a group of NYPD officers near the edge of a walkway along a riverside pier.
It turned out a man identified as 50-year-old Stephen Fantozzi, initially described as being “inebriated,” had jumped into the icy-cold river, and police were attempting to get him out of the freezing water with a life preserver on a rope.
“I had a feeling like it was going to be a river rescue so I ran over and they had already lowered a life ring to the person and as I got there he was becoming unconscious,” stated O’Shaughnessy to reporters after the incident.
“I knew hypothermia was going to be setting in so I took off my equipment and my boots and I let them know I was going to jump in to help him stay afloat,” the paramedic added.
According to the New York Daily News, O’Shaughnessy ignored the falling snow and 24-degree temperature, grabbed his own flotation device and dove into the freezing water to rescue the man on the verge of drowning.
“I swam behind him and locked my arms around him to keep him secure,” recalled the Irish immigrant. “My partner and firefighters from Engine 10 began pulling us up.”
As to the effect of the icy-cold water, O’Shaughnessy stated, “Within about 30 seconds, I could definitely feel it in my arms and legs. They weren’t really working. I couldn’t barely get my hand around the ladder they had sent down.”
But the man he rescued was faring far worse. The paramedic explained, “He was lethargic and definitely hypothermic. He was having trouble forming words.”
Once O’Shaughnessy and Fantozzi were pulled to safety, the paramedic — now hailed as a “true hero” — was taken to the Lower Manhattan Hospital so he could “warm up” while the drowning man was rushed to Bellvue Hospital, where he was listed in stable condition.
As it turned out, police reported that Fantozzi had been a patient with mental instability at the Lower Manhattan Hospital who had wandered out and attempted to commit suicide by diving into the near-frozen river.
“It takes courage to do what Niall did today, placing his life on the line to save others,” stated Oren Barzilay, president of EMS Local 2507. “He’s a true product of FDNY EMS, the best EMTs and paramedics.”
O’Shaugnhessy’s selfless act on Saturday would have been enough to qualify him as “heroic.” But it wasn’t the first time he’s risked his life to save another human being.
It wasn’t even the second time.
But according to the U.K. Daily Mail, this wasn’t the first time that O’Shaughnessy had risked his life to save others, as he had jumped into the river near that exact spot once before to rescue a drowning woman in July 2015.
As if that weren’t brave enough, he had also jumped down onto some subway tracks in 2014 to rescue a drunk woman who had fallen into the path of the mass transit trains.
If a three-time lifesaver like that doesn’t deserve to be called “heroic,” the word has no meaning.
The bravery exhibited by first responders is often overlooked by the general public — paramedics perhaps more so than others — but it is impossible not to take notice of the self-sacrifice made by this man to rescue a stranger from certain death in the freezing waters of the Hudson River.
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