The Associated Press
CINCINNATI — A firefighter who fell into a river during a training exercise and spent nearly 30 minutes underwater survived because the river’s cold temperatures slowed his body functions and minimized damage to his vital organs, doctors said.
Chris Gabbard, 32, left a rehabilitation center Friday about 30 pounds lighter but without any apparent brain damage.
“I’d like to thank everybody for coming out today and seeing me off,” Gabbard said at the Drake Center, where he spent a month working with therapists.
Gabbard and about 12 members of the Hamilton Fire Department were conducting an annual training exercise April 17 on the Great Miami River when one of their boats overturned.
John Hansbauer, 35, received injuries to his legs and spine, and Gabbard spent 20 to 30 minutes underwater, fire officials said.
Initially treated at a hospital in Hamilton, Gabbard had a body temperature of 80 degrees. A pacemaker kept his heart beating during a helicopter flight to University Hospital in Cincinnati.
“I think one of the things that worked in Chris’ favor was the water was cold,” said Dr. Joseph Segal, part of the Drake medical team that worked with Gabbard. “So there was some hypothermia initially, and that slows everything down. We know that with brain injuries there’s less damage long term if there’s hypothermia.”
Gabbard then hopped onto a Hamilton fire truck that was waiting to take him back to the station. “He had his head out the window, smiling and waving at everyone,” said firefighter Joe Stamper. “It was so great to see him like that.”
With a broad smile, Gabbard entered the fire station and hung up his jacket and helmet, a symbolic gesture signaling the end of his shift — something he’d been waiting to do since the accident.
“That felt good,” he said.