Sunday, March 24, 2019

By Land or by Sea | Marco Island Officers Train For Emergencies on the Water


Photos by Steve Stefanides

Some of the more than 120 miles of roadways around Marco Island abut our wonderful waterways and pristine beaches, which may on occasion present a challenge to first responders. Whether it be fishing, swimming, boating or just sitting in a tube or laying on a raft, the water is a great attraction for all to enjoy.

This great asset also presents a special challenge to those that serve the island as first responders, which requires them to constantly train to meet those challenges should they arise.

Should a 911 call be dispatched for a possible swimmer in distress or person in the water needing assistance, the Marco Island Police Department (MIPD) is dispatched, along with the men and women from the Marco Island Fire Rescue Department.

Many times, the police department is first on the scene and a quick response from them may be the difference between a celebratory hug with tears of joy or a tragic outcome.

When a rescue can be initiated within a short period of time the potential for that positive outcome increases. This is because drowning is not instantaneous due to the body’s natural reflexes. This causes a spasm to close off the trachea and prevent the entrance of water into the lungs.

There are many circumstances where individuals are exposed to potential drowning, such as vehicles entering a waterway due to loss of control or another type accident. Potential medical emergencies such as a stroke, heart attack or other rapid onset medical issue may also cause an individual to find themselves in distress within the water.

The Marco Island Police Department is in the process of certifying their officers as “rescue swimmers,” utilizing the Public Safety Diving Association’s Water Rescue Course. That course is being taught by Geoff Fahringer, a longtime resident and Collier County Sheriff’s Deputy, who is now retired and owns Southwest Florida Public Safety Diving Academy.

“Although the course is focused on saving the lives of those in distress, it is also dedicated to helping to insure that an officer is properly trained to help protect themselves from harm. This is due to the fact that an active drowning victim is not able in many instances to reason or follow instructions and becomes both a danger to themselves and to those attempting to assist them,” said Fahringer.

Techniques in throwing lines and flotation devices are practiced as part of the course. In addition, the proper manner to approach an active drowning victim is emphasized. This portion of the course helps to provide officers with a “safe way” to accomplish the goal of saving the victim’s life and protecting the rescuer’s life.

Throughout their time training in the water, officers are in their clothing to insure their ability to swim and maneuver in full clothing (minus their heavy equipment belts, but still with shirts and pants on, as to better simulate the true environment they will be working in).

In the next several weeks Fahringer will train the MIPD officers to provide them with the proper knowledge to meet this challenge and to keep themselves safe should they be called upon to intervene in a water rescue.

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