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Reacting fast, they save swimmers

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VALATIE — Two 18-year-old students were instrumental in the rescue of two girls from the rapids just below the falls on Kinderhook Creek in the village Friday, June 10.

Jozef Ortiz and Nicholas Louizidis were out biking at about 7:30 p.m. when they stopped near the bridge over the falls and heard voices screaming for help. Looking over the embankment they saw two girls, not more than 12 years old, splashing and shouting that they were drowning.

Jozef threw his cell phone to Nicholas to call 911 and then ran down the steep embankment to the creek, where he jumped in and pulled one of the girls through the swift current to safety. Meanwhile, Nicholas called for help and then came down and talked to the other girl to keep her safe while help arrived, as Ortiz told him the current was too strong for either to try to rescue her as well.

Niverville firefighter Henry Swartz was next on the scene. Using water rescue equipment, he pulled the second girl to safety. The Valatie and Niverville fire departments are known throughout the county for their expertise in water rescue. By the time State Police Trooper Tim Malone arrived, the girls were safe and unharmed.

The girls had been down by the waterside with several even younger children and walked into the creek where it was shallow but then were pulled into deeper water by the current. Ortiz said that as he was running down to them, one girl had a “look of sheer panic.”

The area is not one of the frequently-used swimming spots on the creek, and both Jozef and Nicholas were surprised that anyone was swimming there and that so many children were there unattended.

Jozef’s father was chief of the Philmont Fire Department before the family moved to Valatie and Jozef is enrolled in the Firefighter I class at the Valatie Fire Department, the foundational course for certification as a structural firefighter. But so far he has not had any coursework in water rescue.

He said that as he was running to the creek he remembered the advice his instructors have drilled into the group: Don’t do what you can’t safely do, lest you become part of the problem. He reckoned he could safely pull out one of the girls but advised Nicholas against trying to rescue the second girl once he saw how strong the current was.

Jozef’s father said that his son had done what he knew he would in such circumstances: gone to the help of someone in need, since he could safely make the rescue.

Nicholas, who was born in Greece and grew up near the Aegean Sea in Rhodes, said that he too lacked water rescue experience, but since he works part-time as a dishwasher at the Kinderhook Diner, he is “around water all the time.”

Both boys are finishing up their junior years at Ichabod Crane High School. Jozef Ortiz hopes for a career in law enforcement and Nicholas Louizidis in electronics or computers.  

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