John Coffey of Hot Sulphur Springs was simply going fishing the day of March 24 when he drove his truck down to the river.
He noticed three youngsters who had fallen into the icy water.
"One kid started hollering, so I jumped out and ran to the river," Coffey said.
As he ran, he tried to dial 911, but the lock on his phone was difficult to disengage at the time. Wasting no time, he threw down his cell phone and jumped into the river.
Coffey swam to the nearest child, a 10-year-old boy, and brought him to shore. He then grabbed his cell phone and successfully dialed 911, immediately handed the phone to the boy and instructed him to give details to the dispatcher, then went back into the freezing water to collect the 8-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl who remained in the water.
Coffey underestimated the water depth, the freezing temperature, and the river's behavior, he said.
He encountered a current that began carrying him downstream.
"I had no control over what I was doing. I realized I could go under the ice too," he said.
He surveyed the children still in the water.
"The ice they were holding onto started moving downstream," Coffey said.
Then, the little boy climbed onto a piece of ice to save himself. His younger sister remained in the water screaming, according to Coffey. Coffey had made it back onto shore and started yelling to the boy on top of the ice to pull his sister up. After a few tries and with Coffey's coaxing, the older brother successfully got his sister on top of the ice.
Coffey assured them rescuers were coming for them. The young girl's screaming had turned to crying. Coffey feared the two would fall in again and end up under the ice.
"It's OK, they're coming for you," he yelled to them.
Rescuers from Hot Sulphur Springs and Granby fire departments did arrive, and using ladders and a raft, were able to reach the children who stood at the edge of the ice. The rescue took a total of 15 to 20 minutes.
The local children were then whisked away by ambulance to Middle Park Medical Center in Granby for symptoms of hypothermia. They were treated and released.
Before that day, Coffey had never before known what it was like to be submerged in freezing water.
"I could feel my body starting to seize up and I thought, I have only a matter of minutes," he said. "And then I thought of those children who had been in there longer than me."
On April 19 at the Hot Sulphur Springs Town Board meeting, Coffey was recognized for his "brave act of courage, willingly risking his own life to rescue three children."
"This act exemplifies the hero in all of us," said outgoing town board member Kathy Knight.
"It was a miracle I was there at the right time," Coffey said.