A firefighter who made the courageous decision to save the life of a young boy who disappeared underwater in the River Eden has welcomed the award of a Queen’s Gallantry Medal.
Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service’s Crew Manager Stephen Wharton, who is based at Appleby Fire Station, received the award after the incident in February 2019.
Appleby fire crew were alerted to reports of a 13-year-old boy who had disappeared underwater after getting into difficulty while swimming in the River Eden.
Crew Manager Stephen Wharton and firefighter John Bell went into the river, supported by firefighters David Anderton, Michael Dowding, Bradley Hall, James Wood and crew manager Neil Aitken from the riverbank. After a short search, they located the boy, named Kacper.
The Queen’s Gallantry Medal is awarded for exemplary acts of bravery.
Mr Wharton risked his own life by taking off his protective flotation equipment and diving underwater to bring the boy to the surface. Kacper was pulled out of the river with help from the rest of the crew. It is estimated he had been underwater for between 20 and 30 minutes.
Firefighters and paramedics resuscitated the boy and he was flown by air ambulance to hospital in Newcastle where he spent several weeks in intensive care and made a strong recovery.
Chief fire officer John Beard said the crew acted under extremely challenging circumstances. He said: “There is no doubt that the quick thinking, courage and professionalism of all those involved in this rescue helped save the life of a young man that afternoon, including the paramedics, doctors and the Great North Air Ambulance.
“This was a first-class rescue and the way in which Crew Manager Stephen Wharton and the combined efforts of the Appleby crew dealt with a very high-pressured situation was exemplary.
“It was an act of bravery which is thoroughly deserving of this medal.”
Crew manager Stephen Wharton said: “It is such a great privilege being awarded the medal. I really appreciate being nominated, but I’m just happy Kacper got back to his family. That’s the main thing.
“I’d also like to thank the rest of Appleby Fire Crew who supported me that day. This was a team effort and I’m very honoured to have been recognised.”
After the incident, the Chief Fire Officer’s Certificate of Commendation was presented to the crew at Appleby Fire Station, with Kacper and his family attending the presentation.