WaterFire Providence rabbit rescue is achieving legendary status

Local News

A young woman made quite a splash at last week’s WaterFire lighting when she leaped into the Providence River to rescue a rabbit.

A man named Rob, one of the WaterFire fire tenders who helped pull a woman and a rabbit from the water on July 4, holds the animal following the rescue. The photo was taken by Chris Donovan, who is also a fire tender. Chris Donovan/Courtesy Photo via The Boston Globe

As though the fire dancers and blazing braziers weren’t dramatic enough, visitors at the Fourth of July WaterFire lighting in Providence were also treated to a daring rescue scene when a woman leaped into the murky river to save a rabbit. 

A now-viral TikTok video from Emily Swift shows the unidentified woman paddling across the Providence River and holding the rabbit aloft before a boat of WaterFire volunteers comes along to scoop them up. 

And while Swift’s TikTok caption said the rescue involved a ferret, WaterFire creator and co-CEO Barnaby Evans confirmed the creature was in fact “a soggy, cotton-tail brown bunny rabbit, very much alive.” 

In an email to, Evans explained that the WaterFire team had already called in a boat rescue for the rabbit when the incident occurred. 

“As the WaterFire rescue boat was arriving a woman from the opposite side of the river dove in to save the bunny in person!” he said. “So the WaterFire rescue boat did a double rescue, pulling out the woman still holding on to the rescued bunny.”

@emilyalisonswift Girl rescues ferret, an epic series of events😂 #july4th #providence #waterfire #ferret #savethefarret ♬ original sound – Em

Evans and WaterFire Managing Director and co-CEO Peter Mello confirmed the rescue boat, Prometheus, was captained by longtime volunteer Christine Maino.

“The Prometheus team delivered the unnamed rescuer and her rescued bunny to her watching friends on the Gondola dock amid great celebration by all,” Evans said. “The bunny rabbit was last seen safely in the embrace of its unknown heroic rescuer.”

According to Mello, the performers and volunteers onboard the Prometheus continued on with the rest of the lighting ceremony after bringing the woman to shore. The woman disappeared into the crowd, and WaterFire still doesn’t know her identity, he said.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t had any contact with her,” he said in an interview. “We rescued her, but she hightailed it out right away with her friends.”” 

WaterFire is a public art installation from Evans, featuring dozens of braziers across the rivers of downtown Providence. The festival-like lightings often draw thousands of spectators.

According to Mello, WaterFire rarely has issues with people jumping into the water during a lighting. In fact, he could point to only a couple of other incidents in the roughly 14 years he’s been part of the WaterFire team.

Tens of millions of people have visited Providence on a WaterFire night, held regularly on Saturdays each summer, but also for special occasions. – Mark Stockwell for The Boston Globe, File

“We’re always prepared in case somebody accidentally falls in,” Mello said. “You know, we get big crowds and you never know what’s going to happen, and that’s why we train people to be prepared in case somebody is in the water, whether it’s a kayaker, whether it’s a guest to the event, or whether it’s a crew member or something like that.”

Maino and all volunteers on the Prometheus “performed as expected,” he said, adding, “We’re super proud of our volunteers, who are incredibly dedicated and talented.”

According to Evans, safety is key during WaterFire — for people and animals. 

“So while we salute our intrepid swimmer’s zeal and dispatch, we encourage folks to stay safe and dry on shore, while our team completes the rescues,” he said. “The WaterFire team have rescued bunnies, squirrels, dogs, one possum, birds, but not yet a ferret. Plus there is the famous WaterFire Duck!”

WaterFire’s next full lighting, a community paddling event called “Clear Currents,” is scheduled for Aug. 3. As Mello noted with a hint of irony, the lighting will celebrate the return of animals and aquatic life to Providence’s waterways.

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