The drownings on the Delaware
MONTICELLO, NY — As of this writing, there have been four drowning victims in the Upper Delaware River. Another happened in the river just below Port Jervis. …
MONTICELLO, NY — As of this writing, there have been four drowning victims in the Upper Delaware River. Another happened in the river just below Port Jervis. Others were reported on our region’s lakes.
There are two aspects to the story. One is the death itself: what happened? What should people do to minimize risk?
The other is what goes into the emergency response itself, which consumed a big part of the July 1 Sullivan County Public Safety Committee meeting.
“A lot of people don’t understand the resources that go into dealing with a drowning,” coordinator for the bureau of fire John Hauschild said. His department has been working with the National Park Service on getting resources and access to the river. “I want to thank all the emergency services that have been involved.”
“A lot of companies came together for these water operations,” said legislator Nadia Rajsz, whose district lies along the river. “Especially Battalion 1.”
One of six battalions in the county, it’s made up of volunteers departments from river communities, she explained: Highland Lake, Lake Huntington, Lava, Lumberland, Narrowsburg and Yulan.
“The drownings are [historically] not local people. They’re people who come up here... I’m speculating, but they want to have a good time, regardless of being told repeatedly to wear a life jacket... the park service does a great job educating the liveries, the liveries convey that message, but if you don’t wear a life jacket and you get into that river,” you could easily die if you can’t swim, Rajsz said. “There are whirlpools, there are variable depths.”
You can’t blame “any one entity,” she said and repeated, “the park service does a great job.” But, ultimately, it’s hard to control people’s behavior.
The other issue, she said, is communication—in this case, the ability to call 911 in an emergency, which, on the river, would translate into cell phone coverage. Rajsz described a recent situation on the Pennsylvania side, where someone was drowning and a teenager swam across the river and “flagged down a car to get into cell service” so he or she could call for help.
She asked if the county could focus on expanding cell coverage into unserved areas.
“We try to catch up on our rules and regs, our SOPs [standard operating proceudres], and it’s very difficult,” said county sheriff Michael Schiff. “But we’re so busy, we’re so low on manpower, that it just doesn’t get done.”
So he’s proposing that the department use a company that would help fix that.
Texas-based Lexipol describes itself as a “risk management solution for public safety and local government.” It creates policies, provides consulting services and offers training bulletins to law enforcement throughout the country. Changes are added immediately.
“We’ve identified this program as being very important to us following up on our police reform,” Schiff said. “We promised to professionalize and make ourselves well-trained.”
Schiff described it as critical to his department in an era of police reform, where best practices can change fast. A court ruling can quickly change how an officer is supposed to handle a situation.
Lt. Cheryl Crumley described the company: “It’s a team of lawyers; they’ll look at your policies, re-write your policies.” The department would be able to customize the policies, and then they get another look by the company.
“They’re a fail-safe for us... within a year, we should have our policies done and gone over, and if the rumblings we hear regarding police accreditation are true, they will put us on the cutting edge.
“If for some reason we get sued and we follow our policies and procedures, their lawyers will come and fight for us,” she said.
Making sure officers know what they should do would help other departments too. “This is critically important to my office,” said county attorney Michael McGuire, “because we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on federal litigation and most of it winds up being dismissed... but we have to go through the process of defending our policies and procedures.”
Former Village of Liberty Police Chief Scott Kinne had nothing but praise for the company; the village has used it for a few years. “It changes the whole culture of your police department. It’s all based on best practices of law enforcement.”
“In this climate,” Schiff said, “we have to be sure we get it right every time. We have to make sure we’re going on the right information and not what we thought was” correct.
Apparently, it’s easy to call 911 on certain phones.
“911 hangup calls are plaguing us,” said Alex Rau, e-911 coordinator. Some phones can automatically dial 911 when a combination of buttons is pushed. Or accidentally held down. Or sat upon. Who knows?
But when it happens, an officer has to be sent out. “It’s tying up a lot of resources, it’s tying up 911, the law enforcement agencies. We’re trying,” he said, “to do an education campaign.”
For what it’s worth, in answering the question, “What do I do if I butt-dialed 911?” Quora users recommended quickly calling the non-emergency number and explaining what happened. It is also possible to adjust phone settings to eliminate the possibility of immediate connectivity to 911.
After the discussion of the drowning deaths, the call at public safety for more workers seemed pointed.
Emergency services needs help. So does the sheriff’s department.
Legislator Joe Perrello noted that the cost of living is going up, especially rents. “But this is about the unions also... I’m sure we’re going to get good contracts here, just be patient.”