You are a police officer, not a lifeguard. When you encounter a victim in the water, they’re panicked and they can pull you down. Just like with any other life-saving scenario you may encounter on duty, you must be aware of the risks and determine your best options. (iStock Photo)
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In August 2011, swift moving water claimed the lives of a deputy in Wyoming and a state water patrol officer in Missouri. Deputy Brian Gross, 29, of the Converse County (Wyo.) Sheriff’s Office was one of several officers involved in the rescue of a distraught female who had intentionally gone into a river. His body was recovered on Sunday, July 31. In Missouri, extensive efforts are underway to recover Missouri Patrol Trooper Fred Guthrie, 46, and his five-year K-9 partner, Reed, who were missing and presumed drowned after Guthrie’s truck was found near flood waters in Holt County.
Water can be a very perilous environment for law enforcement officers for a variety of reasons. LawOfficer.com reached out to Sgt. Gerrard Callahan of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, for some officer safety pointers.
“You’ve got to remember that fast-moving water is capable of carving out rock,” said Callahan. “It’s a force you can’t win against. Have respect for it.”
He went on to say, “Moving current and fixed objects is where the danger lies. That’s a big part of what officers need to know. It can be a very dangerous environment. Sometimes waiting for more qualified and better equipped and trained personnel may be the right move.”
“Know your limits. That’s a problem we have in this line of work. Sometimes taking a step back is the right thing to do. It’s hard, especially if you have witnesses on scene. I’ve seen many officers perform rescues where they go above and beyond the call of duty. The biggest thing we teach people is that they aren’t lifeguards. It’s important to remember that when you encounter a victim in the water, they’re panicked and they can pull you down also.”
Callahan has these tips for officers who may find themselves faced with a potential water rescue.
“Think reach, throw, row and go,” he said.
- Reach for them but put a barrier between like a stick, pole or paddle. You can let go if you have to.
- Throw something to them that floats.
- Row out to them if possible.
- Go get help from those that have the equipment and training.
Callahan likened water rescue decisions to the decisions made in any critical incident. “You have to determine your best options and be aware of the risks,” he said.
“If you decide to engage in a rescue, get as much gear off as you can. Get rid of your belt, boots, vest and you really want to go out with some type of flotation like a life vest or raft,” Callahan said. “Keep this between you and the victim when you reach them. It gives them something to grab onto and keeps the rescuer safe.”
If you enter the water with a rope, don’t secure yourself to it. ”I’ve seen officers tether themselves to a line, which is not recommended. You want to be able to release yourself if needed. Fast moving water can drive you under and pin you to the bottom,” he said.
If you find yourself being swept away by fast moving water, Callahan has this advice: “Try to float and point your feet down river to help bounce off objects. Keep your feet on the surface and pointed upwards to avoid snags,” Callahan said. “Watch out for strainers like large trees and start paddling ahead of time to avoid them. Keep an eye out for a slow-moving eddy, and use it to swim out and get yourself to shore.”
Bottom line: Know your limitations, assess the entirety of the situation, and don’t let impulse cause you to become a victim.
- Mo. Highway Patrol Working to Recover Body of Water Patrol Officer
- Body of Wyoming Deputy Lost in Water Rescue Recovered