Shortly after 3 p.m. on Sunday, September 11, members of the Central Coventry Fire District and responded to the Arkwright Bridge on Hill St. for a report of people in the Pawtuxet River yelling for help.
Upon arrival, responders found a group of teenagers who had been swimming and jumping off of the bridge into the water. The teens explained that a member of their group, a 17-year-old male from West Warwick, began having trouble while swimming and disappeared under water while attempting to reach a sandbar located about 100 feet from the shore.
According to Police Lt. John Shields, Shawn Pigeon, a life-long Coventry resident who recently moved to Scituate, was driving by the scene on his way home when he stopped to assist. Pigeon dove off the bridge and entered the water with CCFD Lt. Jim Harrington and Central Coventry Fire Marshal Adam Dauplaise and managed to locate the victim's arm underwater. After being pulled under by the victim, Pigeon came up for air and dove down again to grab him around the waist and pull his head above water.
The victim, later identified as Miguel, was in respiratory distress and was transported to Kent Hospital by CCFD Rescue Three with potentially life-threatening trauma. He was released Tuesday and is expected to make a full recovery.
When asked what he was thinking before he dove into the water, Pigeon said that he didn't have to think about much. After saving a choking child in West Warwick six years ago, he decided that he wanted to get into the emergency response line of work and became an EMT. He is currently studying at CCRI to become an RN.
"In this type of situation, I think it helps to be prepared," he said. "Personally, I've always put a little thought into it - if something was going to happen, I was going to do something about it, not just be someone who watches it happen."
Pigeon was given the opportunity to meet Miguel and his family after the incident.
"I know what I saw, but I asked Miguel his point of view. He said he had taken one last breath and knew he was going to die. Then he looked up and saw the sunlight coming through the water and he thought I was a big Jesus reaching out to him," he explained with a laugh.
At their meeting, Miguel's father told Pigeon that he was an angel and that he owed him.
"I told him that he does owe me, but I don't want money or attention. What I care about is that he be a good father and Miguel a good son, and that he does something good with his second chance," said Pigeon.
Without the quick response of the firefighters and the selfless act of a passerby, this story would have a much more somber ending.
Lt. Shields commened Pigeon on stopping to assist responders. "He is definitely considered a hero," he said.
Shields also issued a cautionary statement to residents. "The number one cause of drowning is overestimating one's swimming ability," he explained. "Unfortunately, every summer this happens somewhere."