An unidentified man was pulled from the ocean below the Alaska Steamship Dock on Tuesday evening after a Capital City Fire/Rescue firefighter took a chilly leap to rescue him.
Firefighter Noah Jenkins was the captain on duty at Station 1 when Cate Ross lifted her cellphone and dialed 911 about 7:30 p.m.
“We heard a big splash and thought that we should see what was going on because we had seen a couple people sleeping on the side of the dock,” Ross said in an interview at the scene.
Ross and a friend had been sitting on the outdoor patio of the Hangar on the Wharf when they heard the noise. They looked down at the water and called out.
“Somebody kind of grunted back at us, and we shined lights down and saw somebody hanging on to one of the pilings,” she said.
According to measurements taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the water was 47.5 degrees at the time. If someone falls into water that cold, unconsciousness can come in as little as 45 minutes — more quickly if alcohol is involved — and death by drowning may soon follow.
With the Station 1 ambulance out at another call, Jenkins and Brady Fink responded to Ross’ 911 call in a fire engine. As Fink drove, Jenkins donned a drysuit.
When they pulled up, the two sprinted down the ramp to the port’s lightering dock. Jenkins dove in while Fink held the rope from the dock, the closest cruise ship dock to Marine Park.
From above, Ross and her friend shouted encouragement to the man in the water, bystander Teri Tibbett said.
“She stood above them and kept him engaged,” Tibbett said.
“It’s pretty chilly,” Jenkins said after emerging from the water and seeing the man taken on a gurney to a waiting ambulance.
In his hurry to put on the drysuit, Jenkins forgot one key element: “The drysuit has a zipper to be able to relieve yourself, and that zipper was open; I failed to notice.”
“I’ve never gone swimming for anybody before, but other guys have,” he added.
On Feb. 27, two CCFR firefighters fished a man out of Gastineau Channel. The person in that case was a 28-year-old who had been drinking and accidentally fell off a dock.
On Tuesday night, CCFR assistant chief Tod Chambers said the unidentified man was hypothermic but responsive to medics in the ambulance.
Asked how long the man was in the water, Chambers responded: “It wasn’t a long time.”
Responders — including a Coast Guard small boat — briefly searched the area for a possible second person in the water but found no one.
On the dock at the spot where the man fell in was a crushed pack of Marlboro cigarettes, a Styrofoam food plate and a large, empty bottle of Rich and Rare Whiskey.