The dramatic rescue took place in Elmwood Park, where a 911 caller reported at around 1.30pm seeing a woman and child in the water about 50 to 75 yards from shore.
Police Chief Mike Foligno was doing paperwork in his office when he heard the report and rushed to the scene on River Drive.
A screenshot from a video shows a mother and child being rescued on the Passaic River in New Jersey after falling through the ice on Thursday
Elmwood Police Chief Michael Foligno is seen in a red kayak in the middle of the frozen river, with a firefighter in a wetsuit (right) wading toward them
The woman, seen sitting in the kayak with her back to the camera, had fallen through the ice while walking across the river with her daughter on Thursday
Rescuers in cold-weather gear arrived on the scene in Elmwood Park 25 minutes after the initial 911 call
Foligno, seen sitting up in the kayak, at one point laid atop the woman and child to keep them warm
Foligno arrived on the scene first and borrowed the kayak from a gas station to reach the mother and her two-year-old daughter, who were floundering in the icy water
Upon arrival, he saw the 37-year-old woman and her two-year-old daughter floundering about in the middle of the river between Elmwood Park and neighboring Paterson, with the mother screaming in terror.
‘Thirty seconds felt like 10 minutes. The mother was screaming. She said she couldn’t hold the child anymore. I couldn’t sit still and do nothing,’ Foligno told
With no time to waste, the chief, wearing his standard uniform without any specialized cold-weather gear, borrowed a plastic kayak from a nearby gas station attendant and tried to use a shovel to propel himself toward the victims, but it failed to work.
‘So I lay down on my stomach and just started digging into the ice with my fingers to claw my way out. It felt like eternity with her screaming,’ Foligno told
Firefighters are seen standing on the shore and pulling in the kayak
Foligno, pictured sitting on the kayak, said the mother was screaming, ‘We’re going to die!’
A firefighter is a wetsuit is pictured being helped out of the river by a colleague
Foligno, seen in the boat, had only his standard uniform on when he rushed into the river
Paramedics said the two-year-old girl’s core body temperature had plummeted down to 80 degrees after the ordeal
The victims are being loaded into an ambulance to be taken to the hospital
When the chief reached the victims and tried to place the child into the kayak, she would not let go of her mother. Foligno said he was worried in those moments that his flimsy vessel would tip over and send him to the bottom of the frigid river.
Foligno eventually was able to get the toddler in the boat and wrapped her in his jacket for warmth, and had the mother lie down flat in the kayak to maintain balance.
‘We’re going to die!’ the panic-stricken woman was heard screaming in the kayak.
About 25 minutes into the emergency, firefighters arrived, and one of them donned a wetsuit and waded into the river to pull the mother, child and Foligno to shore.
The police chief noted that their rescuer was about 6-foot-5 and the icy water was up to his neck.
A crack is seen leading from the shore to the middle of the river, where the mother had fallen through the ice while trying to walk across
Foligno said he lay on top of the woman and toddler to keep them warm during the rescue. He marveled that the mother and child lasted as long as they did in the river.
When they finally reached dry land and paramedics examined the two-year-old, they found that her temperature had plummeted down to 80 degrees.
Both the woman and child were taken by ambulance to St Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson. Their conditions were unknown on Friday.
Foligno said he emerged from the ordeal feeling cold and physically and emotionally drained, but was otherwise unharmed.
Police are now looking into what the mother was doing with her young child in the middle of the frozen river. The woman was said to have told Foligno that she was just trying to walk across the ice, likely thinking it was thick enough to sustain her weight, when it cracked underneath her.