A firefighter's stopover during a weekend road trip led to a man's life being saved.

Renmark firefighter John Foody decided to break a two-hour trip home from Mildura with a stop at Lake Cullulleraine, but he soon found himself involved a dramatic rescue.

Mildura man Rich Ban was about 75 metres from shore in the fresh water lake and signalling to his family he was in trouble.

Mr Ban's 15-year-old son raised the alarm, running up to Mr Foody.

"My dad's drowning, can you swim?" he cried.

Mr Foody had been a surf lifesaver since joining Henley Surf Life Saving Club in Adelaide when he was 14.

His skills as a lifesaver and veteran firefighter kicked in.

He realised the fresh water would give little buoyancy and told the teenager to find something which might help.

Mr Foody ventured into the lake, heading for the struggling man as swiftly as he could.

"He was in a lot of trouble when I got there, he wasn't all that conscious, he had maybe 25 per cent consciousness," he said of the victim.

"Within a couple of minutes he was out cold.

"I was preparing for the worst, I thought this was not a good situation to be in."

Push and grab

Without any buoyancy aid, Mr Foody swam under the victim and 'bunny-hopped' him toward the shore.

"I would push him from underneath, then try to grab him," he explained.

"He slipped under three times and I just managed to bring him back up each time."

Mr Foody praised the efforts of 11-year-old Bailey Cameron, who was relaxing at the lake the same day.

The boy had a small inflatable boat and responded quickly when the victim's teenage son appealed for help. He paddled and kicked his way across the lake on the pool toy.

"He was an absolute champion, he paddled, holding onto the boat, kicking his legs as hard as he could to get out to us," Mr Foody said.

"It took quite a while and my concern was this fellow (Mr Ban) had been in the water for some time. I had in my mind that two minutes was about as long as you could go without oxygen.

"So this poor little fella, I was giving him fairly harsh instructions to get out as soon as he could and he did a great job."

After that, the rescue was completed.

"As soon as we got him onto the raft we were able to work our way back to shore," Mr Foody said.

He said people needed to be mindful of the particular dangers of fresh water.

"Once you disappear under the water in the river, I'm absolutely amazed at how quickly people disappear," he said.

"The vision is just gone, I wasn't prepared for that."

Mr Ban has thanked his rescuers for their quick thinking and response.

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