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Firefighters Pull Driver from Lagoon; 10 minutes Underwater, Man is Unhurt

NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans firefighters pulled a local cab driver to safety Thursday evening after his car plunged into a City Park lagoon.

At about 5 p.m., firefighters at Engine 18 on Harrison Avenue in Lakeview responded to a call of a submerged car in the shallow lagoon that runs alongside Marconi Drive.

As Capt. Joe Fincher and his men pulled up to the scene near the corner of Marconi and Robert E. Lee Boulevard, they saw only the top of an open yellow Metry Cab trunk peeking above the water.

Third District police officers told them at least one man was inside the car. "We immediately went in and started swimming to it," Fincher said.

"When we first went in, a police officer said, 'They have alligators in there. Watch out,' " Fincher said. "I told him, 'I know you'll shoot them. I'm not worried.' "

Fincher ducked underwater to try and open the driver's door but had no luck. He banged on the window to try and get the attention of the man inside but didn't hear any response.

Firefighters Jerry Magee and Adam Woodruff rushed to get an ax and rope when they didn't hear any response from the man in the car.

Fincher said he tried one more time to open the door, and it swung open. The man floated out.

"The way I see it, he must have taken his seat belt off himself, is all I can figure," Fincher said. "He must have heard us knocking on the window and unlocked the door himself."

When the man, who had been underwater about 10 minutes, came up, he was breathing, Fincher and Magee said.

"He took one big, good breath," Magee said.

Operator Tim Hughes helped put the man on a spine board and floated him to the water's edge where New Orleans EMS paramedics picked him up and rushed him to Tulane Hospital.

The 49-year-old man, who was not identified, was listed in stable condition with no injuries, according to Jeb Tate, an EMS spokesman.

Fire District Chief Dennis Schorr lauded the Engine 18 first responders' actions.

"I want to make it clear he and his men were not ordered to do this," Schorr said of Fincher. "They did it on their own initiative."

Fincher downplayed the accolades.

"This is something that any fireman would do," he said. "What happened is bigger than me, bigger than us."

New Orleans police are investigating the accident, said officer Shereese Harper, an NOPD spokeswoman.

Attempts to contact Metry Cab were unsuccessful Thursday night.

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