First Responders

New Jersey Police Chief Saves Mother and Child From Freezing Waters of Passaic River

February 6, 2021Joshua Skovlund
elmwood park police chief saves mother and child

multiple screen grabs from YouTube. Composite image by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Elmwood Park Police Chief Michael Foligno sprang into action Thursday afternoon to save a 37-year-old mother and her 2-year-old child from the freezing waters of the Passaic River in Elmwood Park, New Jersey, according to a report from

“Great job to Chief Foligno for seizing the moment and putting his life at risk to save a mother and child. Thank you to Elmwood Park Fire Dept, Little Falls EMS, Paterson Police Dept, Paterson Fire Dept & Paterson Fire Rescue for the combined effort to remove the two submerged parties from the frozen river,” reads a Facebook post by the Elmwood Park Police Department. “A special thank you to the Good Samaritans who stopped to provide assistance, and a canoe, rather than record incident with their cellphones. Without the prompt notification to 9-1-1 by our Good Samaritans this incident could’ve had a tragic outcome. Due to quick thinking and a great job by all not 1 but 2 lives, mother and child, were saved.”

Foligno was in his office Thursday afternoon when he heard the call go out for potential bodies in the river, according to He headed down to the river, where he saw a mother and her toddler who had fallen through the thin ice. Foligno estimated that the woman was out about 50 to 75 yards from shore. 

“The mother was screaming. She said she couldn’t hold the child anymore,” Foligno recalled during a press conference recorded by ABC7 News. Fortunately for the mother and daughter, there was a red kayak at a nearby gas station. 

The gas station clerk brought the kayak, and Foligno climbed in, then used a shovel to try and push himself farther out.

“It wasn’t working, though, so I lay down on my stomach and just started digging into the ice with my fingers to claw my way out. It felt like eternity with her screaming,” Foligno told

He managed to get the little girl out of the water and held her close to him in an attempt to warm her body temperature. Next, he pulled out the mother. 

Additional rescuers arrived to assist Foligno. A firefighter who was 6 feet, 5 inches tall donned a wetsuit, then with the icy water up to his neck managed to tie a rope to the kayak and pull everyone to safety.

The New York Post said the mother and child were rushed off to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey, and were expected to fully recover. According to emergency medical responders who were on the scene, the little girl’s body temperature was approximately 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is dangerously low for a small child, let alone an adult.

Foligno told the New York Post, “The good news is they are safe and we are thankful for that.”

It is still unknown why the mother walked out onto the ice with her toddler. The Elmwood Park Police Department did not respond to requests for further information at the time of publication.

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion.

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