A former medical student has thanked two firefighters who rescued him from the River Tyne – four years after he made an attempt on his own life. Frazer McKenzie has finally met firefighters Tommy Richardson and Martin Scott who helped pull him to safety one dark night in July 2018.
The then 25-year-old had recently graduated as from Newcastle University but had suicidal thoughts after years of battling with his mental health. His struggles cumulated with an attempt on his own life, with Frazer jumping over the barrier on the Newcastle quayside and into the River Tyne.
The tide was out and so Frazer ended up buried in the silt, with only his head, shoulders and arms visible above the mud in pitch black darkness.
The rescue: a race against time
A passing member of the public heard his cries for help and dialled 999, with crews from Byker and Newcastle Central Community Fire Stations deployed to the scene.
FF Tommy Richardson and now retired FF Martin Scott clambered down onto the mud and used a rescue sled to spread their weight across the surface. This allowed the highly skilled firefighters to get closer to Frazer in what was quickly becoming a race against time.
It took nearly an hour to dig the former student from the river bed but they were able to free him and bring him to safety – just before the tide returned and covered the area with water.
Frazer was quickly decontaminated by crew members and taken to hospital, but he never had an opportunity to meet two of the firefighters who helped save his life.
Re-united and reaching out
But now, nearly four years after the incident, the three men have reunited at Byker Community Fire Station to talk through the events of that night.
Frazer, who is from Yorkshire but still lives in Newcastle, has used the opportunity to thank the men but also reach out to others who may be struggling with their mental health.
He said: “My memory of that night isn’t clear as I was in a really bad place. One of the main reasons I wanted to meet Tommy and Martin is so they could tell me exactly what happened.
“All I could remember was someone coming over to me on a board and then me standing on the road being hosed down because I was covered in mud.
“Tommy and Martin 100 per cent saved my life. I am so grateful because my mental health has improved since that night and if they weren’t there I definitely wouldn’t be here.
“To meet them both was emotional because it is the first time I have met them since it happened and it brought back a lot of memories.
Talking about what happened
Frazer recalls when he pleaded with FF Richardson “please don’t leave me I don’t want to die” as crews attempted to free him.
He revealed how FF Richardson then put his arm around him and said “I will stay with you until we have you out and in safe hands”.
Frazer added: “I did then say thank you but meeting them brought back a lot of relief because I have finally had the chance to say thank you to them both properly. It means a lot that they both know how grateful I am.
“If sharing my story can help even one person, then it has helped someone to know that they are not alone.
“If anyone else feels as low as I did then I am here to tell you that there are people like Tommy and Martin who will be there for you and things can get better.”
FF Richardson, who is a mental health advocate at TWFRS, said: “Tragically we attend a high number of incidents to people in distress within our area.
“During my 17 years career in the fire service, it has never been as prevalent as it is today and as a society, we can do more to ensure those struggling with their mental health receive support.
“It has been an incredible experience to meet Frazer and recall the events of that evening, and how we helped rescue him from the mud.
“If it were not for the member of the public who called, we may never have had the opportunity to save him and he would have been submerged in the water when the tide came back in.
“I am so grateful that we did have that opportunity and that Frazer had the chance to turn his life around, with the support of his GP and mental health services.
“We hope that Frazer’s story can help inspire others who feel as low as he did to reach out.”
FF Scott, who retired in August 2020, added:
“It has been a special day to be able to sit with FF Richardson and Frazer to recall what happened that night and how we brought him to safety.
“It was a precarious situation for the entire crew as we were also sinking into the mud as we attempted to dig Frazer out of the riverbed.
“Thankfully we were able to get him back onto dry land and he has been able to get the support he needs to turn his life around and take small steps to improving his mental health.
“I have retired from TWFRS but stories such as this one will stay with me for the rest of my life. I know there are other firefighters across Tyne and Wear carrying out the same lifesaving work every single day.”
Mental Health Awareness Week
We have shared Frazer’s story as part of Mental Health Awareness Week that kicked off on Monday.
We would urged anyone who is contemplating suicide to call or text the charity Samaritans for free on 116 123.
If you need support then you can also call 111 which now triages those in need to a dedicated mental health support line.