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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Jones Pantaleon

Sunday Survival Story! Heartwarming account of rescuing a child in a river.

A member of the Calgary Fire Department (CFD) rescued a child from the Elbow River in Calgary on Tuesday — but that member isn’t one that typically responds to emergency situations.

CFD public information officer and firefighter Carol Henke, who’s often at emergency scenes to gather and relay information to the media, was enjoying a coffee and a walk along the pathway in Stanley Park with a colleague at about 1:30 p.m. when she spotted a young girl struggling in the current.

“I just dropped everything and ran in because she was in trouble,” an emotional Henke told Global News after the rescue.

According to Henke’s colleague, Jimmy Sadden, there was no hesitation for her to jump into action.

“Next thing you know, I see Carol drop her phone and her coffee and just dart down the grass area right into the water,” Sadden said.

“And I noticed that a child was caught in the current, going under and struggling to stay up, and [Carol] just ran out and pulled the child out from the water.”

Henke directed Sadden to call 911 while she comforted the six-year-old as they waited for paramedics. EMS said the girl was taken to the Alberta Children’s Hospital and was in stable, non-life-threatening condition as of 3 p.m.

According to Henke, the girl was at the park as part of a daycare group and neither she or any of the other children were safely prepared to be playing near water.

“None of the kids were wearing life jackets and unfortunately there were no adults out in the water with the children, either,” Henke said.

“We know that people can drown in very little water and the rocks are really slippery. The current doesn’t look like much but if you get caught in it, it’s quite fast. Especially if you can’t swim or you’re not a strong swimmer.

“This looks safe, but it’s not.”

Henke said she spoke to the head of the daycare and “made it very clear that under no circumstances should the children be near the water without a lifejacket.”

“This was very close — this came very close to ending in tragedy and it was preventable,” Henke said.

“Another I don’t know how many moments and maybe she wouldn’t be [OK]. She was struggling, she could not right herself, she had her face in the water. She was trying, she was struggling and she needed help.”

Sadden said it was “incredible to see this rescue.”

“It’s a true testament to their training and their desire to just do what they need to do to rescue people and help people in tough situations,” Sadden said.

“I think what really needs to be highlighted was what Carol did after the rescue itself — comforting the child, providing her with some reassurance, while also directing everybody else around her, even directing me: ‘We need to call 911, we need EMS here.’

“Even when other people were saying, ‘Oh she’s fine,’ Carol was like, ‘No, we need to call EMS.’ That’s a part of the job for all firefighters that we don’t hear a lot about.”

Jimmy Sadden witnessed his colleague Carol Henke rescue a child from the Elbow River in Calgary on Tuesday, Aug. 20.

Global News

When asked if she considered herself a hero, Henke said, “No, I just did what anyone who sees someone in trouble would do.”

“I happen to be a firefighter. I happen to work for the fire department. I happen to talk about all the right things people should be doing to keep themselves and their families safe. This time, I was in a position to take action and make a difference,” she said.

“It was not what I expected but just being aware of your surroundings and doing the right thing. That’s all I did.”

Sadden said Henke and all first responders, including the others that responded to Tuesday’s river rescue, are heroes.

“She was the only one that noticed it. With a bank full of people, she was the only one that noticed. And her ability to just jump into action, rely on her training, but also that other part too — when the child was pulled out, comforting her, staying with the child — was just a great thing to see,” Sadden said.

The Alberta government confirmed Wednesday that Children’s Services, through the childcare licensing team, is investigating this incident.​

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

As Henke said, drownings are preventable. Children should not be in the water without an adult within arms reach. In this case, a childcare had a group of children playing in the water and as Henke suggests, they should be wearing lifejackets. It was also noted that what was done after the rescue was especially important. Henke stayed calm and comforted the child, while insisting she receive medical care. A break down of supervision occurred and almost cost a child her life. Supervision was also what saved her. Supervision is key! Realistically, we know supervision breaks down and that's having layers of protection is vital for preventing drownings. For more information about implementing a system of layers of protection, please visit

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