2021 Winner

Stephen Wharton

On-call firefighter risked his life to dive to the rescue of a teenager who had been submerged in icy waters for more than 20 minutes.

Kacper Krauze, 13, had been attempting to swim across the River Eden in Appleby-in-Westmorland in February 2019. The weather was unseasonably warm, but the icy water sent his body into shock, and he sank to the bottom of the river. Appleby fire and rescue officers, who are retained with full-time jobs including a butcher and mechanic, were the first emergency responders on the scene.

Crew manager Stephen, a painter and decorator, and firefighter John Bell went into the river, supported by colleagues David Anderton, Michael Dowding, Bradley Hall, James Wood and Neil Aitken from the river bank.

After a short search they located Kacper under two to three metres of water. Unable to dive down and reach him due to his safety gear, Stephen went against protocol and took off his flotation equipment and helmet so he could dive fully and bring the boy to the surface.

Kacper had been underwater for about 25 minutes, and when Stephen brought him to the bank, he was in cardiac arrest and severely hypothermic. Paramedics resuscitated him and he was flown by air ambulance to hospital, where he was placed in an induced coma.

He spent several weeks in intensive care but has since made a steady recovery.

Mum Wioletta said Stephen was her hero adding: “It’s a miracle Kacper survived. Every day is a little bit better, and he’s slowly getting back to normal.”

Stephen said: “I’m just happy Kacper got back to his family. That’s the main thing. This was a team effort and I’m very honoured to have been recognised.”

Steve Healey, chief fire officer with the Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service said: “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.