Dan O’Halloran, service manager for Chicago-area mechanical contractor Murphy & Miller, probably could have used the tools in his company’s service van to help in the rescue.
CHICAGO - Dan O'Halloran was prepared for a busy Friday, with an early morning meeting scheduled with a client. He was dressed in a business suit and had just bought a new pair of shoes and belt. The service manager of Murphy & Miller, a Chicago mechanical HVAC contractor, could never have anticipated what was about to happen next.

In a matter of minutes on Feb. 3, O'Halloran, who is also a member of Pipefitter's Local 597, would be part of an impromptu three-man team that rescued a woman from her car as it was sinking into the muck of a retention pond. The 47-year-old woman had passed out behind the wheel of her car, which went down an embankment and into the retention pond.

"I heard someone say they needed tools, but I wasn't in a service truck and all I had was a screwdriver," O'Halloran told The NEWS. "Another guy, Bill Duggan [off-duty police officer] was already on the car, trying to break the glass to get her out."

Duggan had borrowed a hammer from a nearby landscaper to break the glass. O'Halloran said the car was still floating above the water and drifting toward another side of the pond so he ran over to get closer.

"The guy had already been in the water for about five minutes and he was exhausted," O'Halloran added. "He was numb and starting to turn blue. He was having trouble pulling the woman out."

The woman was unconscious and caught on her seatbelt. O'Halloran noticed the front end of the car beginning to sink. He had to act quickly.

"The guy was yelling at me to help him and I knew he was having a tough time, so I jumped in," he said. "The shock of the cold water hit me right away and I sunk in the muck up to my knees. By the time I got to the car the water was up to my waist."

O'Halloran only had about 10 feet between himself and the car but the cold water was an instant hazard. He said it was a struggle to do anything because he was losing feeling in his hands. Yet he managed to finish breaking out the glass in the window and reached for the woman.

"She was in some type of insulin shock," he noted. "Her eyes were open but she was unresponsive. I pulled on her but she was still stuck in the seatbelt. Another guy [George Cavelle, who also jumped in] unfastened the seatbelt and eventually helped me get her out. I put her over my shoulder and got her out of the pond."

O'Halloran looked behind him and saw the car sink into the muck, with only the very top sticking out of the water. By the time he reached land the paramedics had arrived. He said he was planning to leave, but they made him stay. "They wanted to check me out, too," he said. "My body temperature was down to 96°F. They also wanted to make sure I hadn't swallowed any water, since that retention pond can be pretty toxic."

All three men managed to keep the victim's head above water, preventing the water from possibly reaching her lungs. One week after the accident she was recovering in a local hospital.

O'Halloran, an avid swimmer who is experienced in CPR from his days as a lifeguard, said that nothing prepared him for the shock of the cold water. "It felt like all of my breath was sucked out of me."

Although no commendations or ceremonies are planned to thank him for his rescue, O'Halloran is happy with the knowledge that he helped save a life.

Publication date: 03/06/2006