Emmet McIntyre helped rescue three people on two separate occasions from the same place along the lower quay over the past year. He said new safety railings which were installed at the start of the year, however, make it very difficult to get people back to safety.
He said: “My apartment overlooks the Foyle so, around November, I was up around 7.30am when I heard a scream from outside. I looked out and I saw a bag and clothes at the water so I put my shoes on and ran outside. When I got there, there was a girl in the water holding on to a ladder. The ladder was hanging off and she was trying to climb it but I told her to just hold it while I got the lifebuoy and threw it to her. She wasn’t fully with it so she started passing out and was minutes from going under the water. I would have had to go in after her because there was no way for me to get her out. That’s the thing with the Foyle; once you go in, you can’t get out.
“Thankfully, my girlfriend called Foyle Search and Rescue (FSR) and they arrived quickly and saved her.
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“I’ve seen the girl since and she has thanked me for saving her. She doesn’t remember everything but she remembers that I was there and she is thankful to be alive now. I would do it again today if I had to. I’m not the type of person who could ignore someone shouting for help.”
The second emergency rescue happened just two weeks ago. “I was sitting at home, playing the guitar and I heard someone shouting for help so I put my shoes on and ran out as my girlfriend called FSR again,” Emmet said. “There was a man hanging onto the railing and a woman was hanging on to his foot, in the water. It was the same again, I assessed the situation and ran for a lifebuoy, which is quite far away from that spot. There was someone else there with a torch so we could see what was happening but FSR were there so quickly, under ten minutes, and they got the girl in the boat. The man wanted to go with her but he couldn’t. I knew myself that it would be too difficult to get him in the boat too, so we agreed to try to pull him over the railing. I put my arms around him to help him over and he just crumbled in my arms in tears. He went weak and nearly fell and I had to use all my strength to hold him close to me. I had to drag him over the rails but they are as tall as my chest so it was difficult for me to get the leverage to pull him. I managed it in the end but it took everything in me.There’s nothing there to help rescue someone. The ladder that was there before is now covered up by a barrier and they put the higher barriers up, which make it harder for people to go into the water, but they also make it impossible for people to get out.
“There should be an SOS point for anyone along the Foyle to lift the phone and get direct access to FSR. I know it’s hard because they are all volunteers but a direct contact line would help so much. There should even be a jetty where people can climb on to wait for help. Under the quay is just timber and gaps and there’s no way for you to get out. If I wasn’t there those nights, I don’t think those people would have survived.
“I’m always listening now for people shouting for help. It’s not nice that I can’t relax at home. It’s hard, I wish there was more I could do but I want more people to know about this.
“I’m not looking for recognition. In my eyes, I think everyone would do what I did. It’s just so sad watching the suicide rate in this town go up. I understand what it’s like to be in that headspace and I know there’s not enough help for people in this city who have depression so I just want to do what I can.”
Foyle Search and Rescue Chairman, Stephen Twells, said: “FSR work closely with the appropriate statutory bodies who have accountability for installing life belts to ensure adequate life rings are available along the quay, but appreciate that there can be a distance between some of them. We also appreciate that access to the other side of the railings to assist someone in difficulty can be challenging.
“Railings along certain sections of the quay have been increased in height in recent months, and these can prove difficult to get people back over them if they find themselves on the other side. We are currently working as an organisation to ensure that we have the appropriate equipment to assist someone in this situation better.
“Some ladders are attached to the quay wall on the other side of the railings along certain areas of the quay which can be used by either boat users or someone who may find themselves in difficulty in the water. We would welcome any further improvements in life saving equipment and are willing to work with statutory and voluntary bodies with any proposals that may be considered. At present, all life ring housings state the exact location of that life ring as well as the emergency number to call, and we would encourage anyone walking along the quay to familiarise themselves with the location of the life rings as well as the instructions printed on them.”
A Department for Communities spokesperson said: “The installation of the new vertical railings at Meadowbank Quay/ McFarland Quay Riverside Walkway meet Design Manual for Roads and Bridges standards for pedestrians and cyclists. The railings replacement project did not remove any of the existing ladders. The ladders are still in place and can be utilised as handholds and/or to get someone partially out of the water.”
*Anyone in distress in NI can contact Lifeline 24/7 helpline can be contacted for free on 0808 808 8000 in confidence; The Samaritans can be contacted 24/7 on 02871 265511 or Freephone 116 123 in confidence; Children can contact Childline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 0800 1111 for any issue or by visiting www.childline.org.uk in confidence.
Anyone in distress in RoI can contact Pieta House free on 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 51444; TEXT Crisis Textline Ireland on 50808 - a free 24/7 text service; Ring Samaritans 24/7 on freephone number 116-123.