Video: Beanpole firefighter saves toddler

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/26/2005 9:00:07 AM ET 2005-08-26T13:00:07

At 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds, Jim Pfeiffer is used to being called skinny.

But Pfeiffer’s beanpole status came in handy Monday, when the 25-year-old firefighter slipped into a narrow crevasse to rescue a toddler trapped 9 feet underground.

The 16-month-old Metuchen boy, John Michael Butterfield, had been running at the Tamaques Park playground with another child under his mother’s watch when he darted off toward an adjacent tennis court. He slipped into one of six holes dug by a contractor earlier that day to support new floodlights.

A concrete column took up most of the space in the 3-foot-wide hole, but Butterfield fell into a 10-inch gap. His face was pressed against the dirt wall when firefighters arrived, and before long his cries ominously ceased.

A deep breath
Pfeiffer stripped down to a T-shirt and trousers. His colleagues fastened ropes around his waist and ankles, and lowered him headfirst into the gap. Pfeiffer soon became wedged himself, but the boy remained out of reach.

“I took a deep breath and I was able to minimize my size as much as possible,” Pfeiffer told NBC's "Today" show on Friday.

The firefighter managed to grip the child’s shirt, and then slip his fingertips under the boy’s armpits. His colleagues then hoisted them to freedom.

Butterfield was treated for cuts and bruises and released from a hospital.

Said Pfeiffer: “The guys used to laugh at me for being so skinny, but I guess in this case it paid off.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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