Insights > Nuclear security officer saves 6-year-old in Arkansas River

Nuclear security officer saves 6-year-old in Arkansas River


ANO Security Officer Greg Widner serves as a volunteer firefighter.
ANO Security Officer Greg Widner serves as a volunteer firefighter.

Arkansas Nuclear One Security Officer Greg Widner saved a 6-year-old child from the Arkansas River last month. In addition to working in security, Widner works as a volunteer firefighter and worked as a professional firefighter for nearly 20 years.

"I just like trying to stop some of the bad stuff that goes on around here. If you can save someone's house or save a life, then it makes it worthwhile," Widner said.

On the morning of July 26, Widner heard a call on the radio that there was a child in the Arkansas River. Lucky for him, he already had his boat hooked up to his truck.

"My wife owns a scanner, and when I heard that there was a child in the river, I just told her that I've got to go."

On the way to the boat ramp, he contacted a few other members of the Dardanelle Fire Department, and they jumped in the boat with him. They were in the water in less than five minutes.

"I kind of knew what I needed to do, and I was very familiar with the area of the river because I have fished it a lot," Widner said.

Once they were in the water, they headed to an area called Council Oaks, where the child was last seen. After about 20 minutes of searching, they got a report that someone had seen a "body in the water" near the River Front Park area about a mile downstream.

"Since he worded it that way instead of saying, 'We see him, and he's swimming,' my initial thought was, oh no, we are doing a body recovery instead of a rescue. When we saw him initially, he was dead still, floating on his back, but when we got within ten feet of him, I saw him paddle like someone would in a swimming pool, and I thought, 'Oh my God, he's alive'!"

Another member of the fire department, Steve Troyke, who was on the boat with Widner, reached down and pulled the child up to safety. Once they returned to the boat ramp, Troyke took the child to his dad.

"Seeing him with his dad is the biggest deal. His dad was absolutely ecstatic. I won't forget because it made you feel so good, and the relief on that guy's face was well worth any risk we put out trying to get the child," Widner said. "I have two kids of my own, and if I can do anything to save a child there, I'll do it. There is nothing greater in life, in my opinion, than helping someone out or trying to save a life."

Authorities say that the child has autism and was playing with his grandmother at Council Oaks Park when she suffered a heart attack. They believe he entered the water as a coping mechanism from the trauma because he has a swimming pool at home and loves to be in the water. In total, the child floated a mile downstream.

"I told the guys, I may never win a tournament out of the boat, but today, we caught the best catch we could ever catch. I can waste all the money in the world on fishing stuff, but it will never equal saving a child's life."

Widner said it was a team effort. This is actually his second river rescue. He says his mission is to make someone's worst day just a little bit better.

"You had a hundred people here trying to help this little boy that no one knew. But it didn't matter; we were here to help out."

Robert Channell
Communications Specialist