La Crosse police officers prepare for water rescues at Logan High School

Training is vital in emergency response, so officers drill for them on land and in water

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — When people need help, a police officer is often the first person to arrive. La Crosse officers want to make sure they’re ready to help on land or in the water.

Students gain knowledge inside a school. So, the location is fitting for officers in the La Crosse Police Department with a desire to learn.

“We’re out here doing water survival training,” said Capt. Phil Martin.

Emergencies don’t call ahead of time to give these officers a heads up.

“You don’t know if you’re gonna have to jump in the water to save someone or pull someone from a burning building,” said officer Tanner Oleson.

So, the officers have to be ready.

“Ideal goal is to keep their head above water,” Oleson said.

Martin teaches this temporary classroom of officers bracing for that life-and-death moment. Oleson trains wearing all of his equipment. He even carries a little extra weight in his belt.

“There’s about six of these (added weights) in each of the belts,” Oleson said, explaining that they test his physical strength in the water. “It really pushes you.”

Martin agreed, saying, “You have a significant amount of extra drag, extra weight in the water.”

Not to mention the conditions you see here drastically differ from the conditions out on a river or lake.

“You have waves, barge traffic, boat traffic,” Martin said.

The person they’re trying to save isn’t the only one at risk.

“They’re putting themselves in jeopardy as well,” Martin said.

Decision making under pressure holds just as much value as their physical skills.

“This job doesn’t come without its dangers,” Oleson said. “Going home is a successful day.”

By land or by water, Oleson’s mission is to protect his home city.

“Been living here since I was 4 years old — love the community,” he said.

Oleson takes what he learns today to potentially save someone’s life tomorrow. Officers also work on self-defense in the water so the person they’re trying to rescue doesn’t pull them underwater.

Last year, 19 people in Wisconsin died in boating accidents, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Police say boaters should wear a life jacket and tell someone where they are going.

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