There’s a vital reason why many Marco police officers carry swim fins, inflatable life jackets and floating rescue devices in their patrol vehicles.
“Anywhere anyone goes on Marco, they’re never far from water,” said marine patrol officer Josh Ferris.
His point: The danger of people getting into trouble in the Gulf or in the canals, ponds and lakes is very real – and carrying that equipment in police vehicles could truly mean the difference between life and death.
But it’s not a case of simply equipping officers with fins, jackets and flotation devices and telling them: Hey, go out and rescue people who might find themselves in difficulty.
Certainly not. The officers have to be trained and certified for water emergencies, and Ferris is the man who guides fellow officers through lecturing and practical sessions to achieve those certifications.
Ferris, in turn, is certified by an organization called the Public Safety Diver Association – which concentrates on fire, police and EMS agencies nationwide.
Local police participation in the program is obviously voluntary said Ferris, adding that about 75 percent of the department is indeed certified.
Rescue techniques are two-fold: saving people by throwing tethered flotation devices to them from the shore or from boat decks, for example, or actually entering the water to rescue a panicked or drowning swimmer.
Ferris said officers are taught that swimmers in distress (but not in imminent danger of drowning) can respond to communications and orders from shore or a boat deck.
“But if they’re drowning, they’re going to lose their ability and respond,” he said. “All they’re worried about is getting their next breath, so this is when rescuers enter the water.”
Time is also important, Ferris added, because even on tropical Marco, prolonged submersion in water can lead to hypothermia.
“It happens when body temperature drops below 95 degrees,” Ferris said. “At the beginning of April, the water was 66, for example.
Ferris cited a recent personal rescue arising from a woman falling between a local sunset cruise boat and the dock.
“I had my lifejacket (inflated) and got behind her,” he said. “She had broken an arm and damaged some tendons, so I pulled her along to a seawall and we got her out.”
In the same vein as continuing education, officers must train for 16 hours a year to be re-certified.
And, the officers who do choose to be in the program find it rewarding.
“They enjoy doing it, being outside and in the water, and they appreciate learning these skills,” Ferris said.
For their latest certification or re-certification sessions, Ferris put his fellow officers through their paces in the Greater Marco Family YMCA, and after that in the lagoon waters off north Hideaway Beach.