Dispatcher, first responders win Life Saving Awards for water rescue

Life Saving Award winners pose with Jefferson Co. Sheriff Mitch Woods (center).

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office honored the heroic actions of those involved in a dynamic water rescue necessary after a young woman accidentally veered off-road and careened into the LNVA canal in China, submerging her vehicle and putting her life in grave danger.

According to a news release from JCSO, at about 9:22 p.m. on Jan. 4, the office received a call from a frantic 19-year-old who told the 911 dispatcher she had been involved in an accident, with her vehicle coming to rest in the LNVA Canal on Turner Road in China. The driver was still in the vehicle, which was rapidly filling with water. The dispatcher, Aliceson Ritter, instructed the driver to exit the vehicle before it filled up and became submerged.

Listeners can hear the frightened driver’s cries for help in audio of the 911 call.

“Please help!” she shouts as Ritter attempts to calm her. As the dispatcher is speaking with the young woman in a soothing manner, she is also communicating with emergency responders en route to the caller’s location.

Upon arrival to the scene of the accident, deputies and firefighters from Jefferson County ESD No. 3 located the vehicle in the center of the canal about 25 yards from the roadway. The vehicle was submerged, and the driver was on its roof. Deputies from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Jefferson County ESD No. 3 immediately entered the water and executed a water rescue. The driver was safely removed from the waterway.

ESD No. 3 Dispatcher Aliceson Ritter, Fire Chief Doug Saunders, Deputy Dustin Unruh and Deputy Rod Carroll received Life Saving Awards and pins for their actions Jan. 4. First responders Unruh, Carroll and Saunders all stressed that the real credit goes to dispatcher Ritter for saving the young caller’s life that fateful night.

“It was a team effort,” said Unruh, the first to the scene of the accident. “But the dispatcher did a great job. She managed to talk her out of the car. She had the presence of mind to tell her to do that. The car was about 90 percent submerged when we got there.”

Chief Saunders said, “The dispatchers are the unsung heroes. What (Ritter) did was facilitate that girl’s life being saved.”

Sheriff Mitch Woods, who presented the awards, agreed with Saunders.

“Like the chief said, it starts with dispatch,” Woods said. “We’ve got a great group of dispatchers. They deserve a lot of credit they don’t always get.”

“All the credit needs to go to the dispatcher,” said award-recipient Deputy Carroll, who can be seen in video of the rescue jumping in first to rescue the young woman, leaping feet from the ledge and quickly swimming toward her in the frigid water. The video may be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMAsbVh7OVI.

Carroll’s daughter Brooke, who was with him when he responded to the call, said she was a bit shocked and a little frightened to see her father jump into the cold water that night.

“It was scary,” she said at the awards ceremony. “I’ve actually been on numerous accidents with him, and he always tells me to make sure to stay in the car. (When seeing him jump) I thought, ‘That’s a new one.’ But I knew he was doing what needed to be done.”

Dispatcher Ritter said she too was just doing what needed to be done when instructing the frantic young caller Jan. 4. She said as a dispatcher it is imperative to anticipate needs and to remain calm and rational when answering emergency calls, often from distraught persons.

“You just do it,” she said of keeping her cool under pressure during emergency calls. “They’re looking to you to help them.”

She said on the evening in question, when she answered the phone, she could hear the caller screaming, “Please help me!” The caller was able to tell Ritter she was on Turner Road in China. After hearing a description of the s-curve the caller failed to negotiate, Ritter, who is familiar with the area, knew exactly where the woman was. She said from the time she answered the phone to the time the responders arrived and she got off the line, maybe four minutes elapsed. During that time, Ritter soothed the caller and instructed her to roll down her window and exit the vehicle. The woman complied, then climbing onto the roof of the car where she was found by first responders.

Ritter said that for her, “It’s not just a job. We’re helping people.”