|Title||Swimming rescues by Irish police officers|
|Publication Type||Conference Paper|
|Year of Publication||2007|
|Authors||John Connolly B.ED, MA|
|Conference Name||World Conference on Drowning Prevention|
|Publisher||International Life Saving Federation|
|Conference Location||Porto, Portugal|
Context: This presentation looks at 100 swimming rescues performed by members of An Garda Síochána between the years 2000 and 2006. Rescues are analysed and compared to those carried out by members of the public asking why no police officer drowned when 8 members of the public died attempting rescues in the same period.
Methods: Available Irish swimming rescue reports, award citations and newspaper cuttings with references to swimming rescues in Ireland were analysed.
Results: In Ireland officers of An Garda Síochána perform an average of 20 swimming rescues annually. The majority of police rescues were in rivers (80%), at night between 10.00pm and 4.00am. The most of those rescued are young males (90%) who had been drinking heavily beforehand and had deliberately entered the water (90%) often fully clothed. Those in difficulty seldom resisted being rescued and were mostly removed from the water alive (90%) and hypothermic. Almost all officers swam in their uniforms and used some form of buoyant aid in only 50% of rescues.
Discussion: Police officers are frequently the first responders in emergency situations including drownings. The time frame and locations frequently associated with suicide by drowning situations made most rescue circumstances very difficult yet no Irish police officer died when an average of 3 police officers drown annually in the USA. Teamwork often played a critical role in rescues, with two or more officers usually involved in any incident and must be a major factor in preventing such deaths.
|Learning Outcomes|| |
In order to gain access to certain confidential documents it was necessary to give an undertaking of confidentiality. Therefore no names are used in any of the following appendii but each bullet point in any one appendix refers to a separate incident to the others in that appendix.
Appendix 1: Garda Non-swimming Rescues
Appendix 2: Ringbuoys
Successful use of a Ringbuoy
Unsuccessful use of ringbuoys
Appendix 3: Effects of the Cold
Appendix 4: Actions of Casualties
Appendix 5: Actions of Gardai
Appendix 6: Teamwork
Appendix 7: Non-garda Rescuers
Appendix 8: Movement of bodies in water
Appendix 9: Problems exiting the water
Appendix 10: Communication between casualty and rescuer
Appendix 11: Rescue techniques used
|Full Text|| |
This paper contains an analysis of 82 rescues carried out by members of An Garda Siochana (police officers) between 2000 and 2006. It concludes that most rescues took place close to river bridges and that the casualties had deliberately entered the water. The majority of casualties were male and the events took place mostly on week-end nights between 10.00pm and 3.00am with over one-third of casualties having consumed alcohol beforehand. The officers involved acted decisively and displayed great courage and teamwork, making excellent use of available rescue aids.
All rescuers and casualties were subject to cold injury and it should be made clear to lifesavers that they should never enter water without knowing beforehand where they will exit the water.
This papers contains an analysis of 82 separate water rescues carried out by 134 serving officers of An Garda Siochana (Ireland's police service) between the years 2000 and 2006 inclusive. Ninety members of the public were rescued from drowning by the police officers. This is believed to be a significant proportion of rescues by members of the police force. A 2004 report1 concluded that at least 20 water rescues are made by Irish police officers annually.
Available rescue reports, award citations and newspaper cuttings from An Garda Siochana, Irish Water Safety and Comhairle na Mire Gaile (Rescue Awards Council) were analysed and the following information extracted.
Location of Rescues
The following list shows the location of the 82 rescues;
Deliberate or accidental entry?
In 49 (59.7%) out of the 90 persons rescued (100%) it was determined that the person rescued had deliberately entered the water, in 5 (5.5%) that the entry was accidental and in 6 (6.6%) that the person entered the water to rescue someone else and got into difficulty themselves. In the remaining 30 (33.3%) cases it was not possible to say for certain whether the entry was deliberate or not but the circumstances in many suggested that the person had deliberately entered the water.
The 5 accidental entries were: a boy fell into a canal / a boat sank / a sailor fell into a harbour / a car accident / a tired swimmer bathing in the sea.
Entry point of casualty
It was possible to establish the place where a casualty entered the water in 75 of the 82 rescues.
Entry from a bridge was the most frequently used site followed by riverside or riverbanks (often close to a bridge).
Number of officers involved in each rescue
A single garda officer acting alone initiated the rescue attempt in 34 (41.4%) of the rescues and in 48 (58.5%) two or more officers acted together as a team. No officer died as a consequence of a rescue attempt. Two (2) officers were seriously injured but both subsequently returned to duty following periods in hospital. Forty two 42 officers swam in their uniforms. One sergeant, a veteran of past rescues, who removed his trousers before entering the freezing water is quoted as saying Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ It's very hard to swim in garda trousers.' In 15 rescues it wasn't necessary for the officers to actually swim to the casualties. (see Appendix 1)
Gender of the casualties
Of the ninety persons rescued 58 (64.4%) were male and 32 were female (35.5%).
Ages of the casualties
It was possible to place 80 of the 90 persons rescued into the following age ranges. If a person was called a young man or young woman they were placed in the 15 Ã¢â‚¬" 35 age range and if described as being middle-aged they were placed in the 36 - 60 age range.
Gender of those in the 15 Ã¢â‚¬" 35 year age range : 35 male (38.8%) and 18 female (20.0%)
Day of Rescue
It was possible to establish a day in 73 of the 82 rescues
Day of Rescue Number of Rescues
Time of Rescue
It was possible to determine the starting time of the incident in 51 of the 82 rescues
Rescues at night (in the dark)
It is important to take account of the fact that one continuous period of darkness straddles two days (the end of one day and the beginning of the next day). If the information available for the 51 rescues is organized to allow for this fact we get the following;
Thursday night into Friday morning:
Friday night into Saturday morning:
Saturday night into Sunday morning:
Sunday night into Monday morning:
Monday night into Tuesday morning:
Tuesday night into Wednesday morning:
Wednesday night into Thursday morning:
Night rescues: 29 rescues
If we assume that the unknown times are most likely similar to those known to us and if the unknown 31 rescue times are divided according to the ratio 29 (night) : 22 (day) we get the following estimated totals of 47 night and 35 day rescues. This supports the common belief among police officers that the majority of rescues take place at night, in the dark.
The majority of night rescues (where time and day are known ) took place at week-ends (21). During the week-end six hour periods of darkness between the hours of 10 pm and 4 am there were (18) rescues. The sun never rises before 5 am in Ireland and sets before 10 pm (www.sunrisesunset.com). The garda work shift change at 10 pm appears to have little or no impact on the number or outcome of rescues.
Alcohol consumed is a major factor in many drowninÃ‚Âgs and suicides2 and 35 (38.8%) out of the 90 (100%) persons rescued were known to have consumed alcohol before the incident. In a good number of other cases prior alcohol consumption was suspected but no definite determination was recorded. There is much evidence to support the belief that many casualties attempt suicide immediately following a binge drinking session.2
The 59.7% garda suicidal rescue figure is much higher than Irish Water Safety's 48% national suicide figure for 2005 drowning causes and the 33.3% cases where it was not possible to say for certain whether the entry was deliberate or not is double the Irish Water Safety 2005 national undetermined percentage figure of 16%. The gender percentages of 64.4% male and 35.5% female are close to the national percentages of 68.4% male and 31.5% female for all drowning deaths in 2004 (inclusive of accidental drowning deaths) but are much higher than the 2004 suicide and undetermined drowning percentages on their own of 42.2% male and 25.5% female.3 These facts support the belief among gardai that the majority of those they rescue have deliberately entered the water with the intention of killing themselves. It should be noted that with one exception there was no mention of any of those rescued having previously tried to kill themselves and this could support the claim of many suicide support agencies that if persons, who survive a suicide attempt, receive professional help they are unlikely to attempt suicide again subsequently.4
The causes of suicide are multi-factorial and the act itself is often linked to mental illness and alcohol consumption and a latent predisposition towards killing oneself can be triggered by a single event. There is much evidence that a bout of binge drinking can precede a suicidal act.2 Because of this persons attempting suicide can be equivocal about the act itself Ã¢â‚¬" their determination may waver and they frequently will not resist being rescued. There are examples of this behaviour in Appendix 4 (Actions of Casualties) and Appendix 10 (Communication between casualty and rescuer). The concentration of rescue incidents over week-end nights is supported by the actions of one of Ireland's most successful water rescue units Ã¢â‚¬" Foyle Search and Rescue Ã¢â‚¬" who have saved over 800 lives from suicide driven drowning in the River Foyle, Northern Ireland. The volunteer suicide prevention organisation operates a land patrol and water rescue service between the New Foyle Bridge and Craigavon Bridge and the 1.5 mile riverside between the bridges on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 9.30pm to 3.00am (www.foylesearchandrescue.org). 4
Most rescue reports end with a statement that the casualty and rescuer were taken to hospital and treated for hypothermia. The fact is that the majority of those involved were not in the cold water long enough to suffer from the clinical condition of hypothermia (confirmed in a private e-mail from Admiral Frank Golden) but there is no doubting their experiencing cold shock and severe chilling as described in Appendix 3 (Effects of the cold). Time and again reports describe rapid loss of consciousness and swim failure, consequences associated with immersion in very cold water. These are exacerbated by the danger of bare hands sticking to freezing cold ladders as described in at least one rescue report.
The most frequently used rescue aids are ropes and ringbuoys.* The attempted use of ringbuoys is mentioned in 12 reports ( the absence of them in 3 others) and ropes by themselves in 8 reports. Appendix 2 (Ringbuoys) contains accounts of the use and mis-use of ringbuoys. There are numerous accounts of members of the public throwing buoys into rivers and either missing the casualty or the casualty being unable to grasp it. One problem seems to be the knotting of ropes attached to the ringbuoys and rescuers believing (rightly or wrongly) that they do not have time to unknot the rope and so they throw the lot into the water. This means that should they miss and they mostly do Ã¢â‚¬" there is no way of recovering it for a re-throw. Police officers successfully used the buoys either as buoyant aids in a swimming rescue, threw the buoy to a rescuer returning with a casualty or an officer holding the end of a rope pulled a colleague holding on to the buoy to safety. There is no doubting the benefit of having a buoy but there needs to be further research into overcoming the problem of knotted ropes. Ropes, frequently supplied by the fire service, were often used to lower rescuers over bridges or down riverbanks and then to hoist casualties up to safety. While there was no mention of throw bags in the reports studied I understand that some patrol cars carry them and that others were supplied to the force by Irish Water Safety on a pilot basis. Their use would help overcome the knotted rope problem.
Actions of Gardai
It is clear that in most rescues the officers involved were unhesitantly willing to risk their own lives to save those of others, even when they knew that the people were trying to kill themselves. When, on a few occasions, casualties resisted being rescued, the officers persevered and successfully removed the person from the water. Because there is a trauma associated with not having the body of a loved one to bury, it is worth noting that in all 82 rescues the gardai successfully recovered the person and in only one incident was the person dead on removal from the water and in another the person died later on in hospital.
Gardai showed a decisiveness in their actions Ã¢â‚¬" when others around them appeared unsure of how to proceed a garda present often took the initiative and acted. When a plan wasn't working out it was quickly modified or even scrapped and another approach tried.
Time and again gardai displayed teamwork and an ability to use their collective knowledge, experience and swimming ability to best advantage. Officers mention that they acted with confidence knowing that help was on the way or that they were not alone and if needed others would and did join them in the water. Local knowledge of one or more officers present often allowed them to quickly move about in the dark. Sharing out tasks according to ability Ã¢â‚¬" the strongest swimmer among them going into the water Ã¢â‚¬" one officer holding on to the end of a ringbuoy rope and towing the second back to safety when the casualty had been secured. A rescuer knowing that when he was in the water his colleagues were focused on him until he was safe again. There was a clear chain of command when decisions were being taken Ã¢â‚¬" sergeant to gardai or senior garda to junior garda.
Communication was often crucial - using their radios to call for help before acting and knowing when taking action that help was there or on its way. Using radios to communicate when searching for a casualty Ã¢â‚¬" splitting up until the person was found and then quickly coming together to act as a unit, thereby maximizing the use of available personnel. Because of the number of rescues taking place there is a good chance that one or more of the gardai present will have been involved in a previous rescue and will bring what was learned then to bear on the current situation.
All of the above meant that officers could and did act in ways that were often courageous without being reckless whereas, were a member of the public, acting alone, to act in a similar manner it could be construed as being potentially unsafe or unwise. A key factor in how the police officers acted was the knowledge that they were not alone.
Removing casualties from the water
Accounts in Appendix 9 (Problems exiting the water) draw our attention to the fact that a rescue does not end when the casualty is made buoyant and able to breathe Ã¢â‚¬" they still have to be removed from the water. Numerous reports state that the officer who carried out the rescue itself was exhausted on reaching the riverbank and had to be assisted from the water. Again there are statements that first attempts to extract those in the water from it failed and alternate means had to be found. It is important that lifesavers are made to understand that they should not enter water unless and until they are sure of where and how they can get out of it.
Rescuing someone from drowning is fraught with many difficulties that can result in the death of a would-be-rescuer. In these reports no rescuer died but two officers were seriously injured and six (6) persons who entered water to save someone else had to be rescued themselves. In Ireland, during the five year period 2001 to 2006 eight (8) persons drowned whilst involved in rescue attempts. There is much that lifesaving teachers and lifeguard trainers can learn from police officers and further research in the area is very desirable.