A last-minute change of plans, and calm waters before a storm, saved an 18-year-old’s life Saturday morning.
Marine Unit Constables Chris Kainz and Ricardo Gomez woke up Sept. 20 expecting to go on an assignment west of the Marine station at Queens Quay and Rees street. Instead, due to a change of plans, they headed east on a patrol of the inner harbour.
Around 8:30 a.m. the duo, along with Emergency Medical Services Paramedic Scott Jordan, were cruising east, past the George Brown lakefront campus, when they saw something hanging outside of a huge tire, propped against the harbour wall to moor boats safely. The object was glinting in the sunlight. The section of the harbour wall had a caution buoy warning boats not to proceed any closer due to construction, but the constables needed to check what the object was.
As Gomez and Kainz approached the tire, they saw something black in the inner space of the tire, along with the source of what was shining in the sun. “It was the strap of a purse,” says Gomez.
As the crept closer to the tire, they quickly saw something else, two legs and a torso. The tire was also half-filled with water, making it harder for the constables to see.
As Kainz maneuvered the boat steadily against the harbour wall, Jordan and Gomez peered into the tire and saw a woman dressed all in black, motionless. Her legs were fitted inside the inner edge of the tire, her back along the curve, and her head resting on the metal and cement of the harbour wall.
“I nudged her, and called out, but she didn’t move,” says Gomez, but he could see from the movement of her body that she was breathing slightly. He nudged her again and she muttered something and opened her eyes.
Jordan and Gomez quickly pulled the girl out of the tire and into the boat. As Jordan wrapped her up in blankets and checked her vitals, the constables checked her purse for identification. She was semi-conscious and the three were able to get her to shore and into an ambulance.
“Unreal. Pure chance we decided to go that way,” says Kainz.
“She wanted to survive, she was fighting for her life,” says Gomez.
According to officers at 51 Division, who took her to hospital, the girl had jumped into the water around 10 p.m., Friday night, after a fight with her father. Once in the water, the teenager had second thoughts and tried to swim to shore, but was only able to grab onto the tire. “She was exhausted by the time she got in the tire,” says Kainz. It was after 10 hours, after the young woman had all but lost hope, that she was saved by the two constables and paramedic.
“I asked her where she was from,” says Gomez. She could only whisper ‘Scarborough’ and a ‘thank you,’” he says.
“She got a second chance,” says Kainz. “If it wasn’t for the water being calm (right before a storm), they may have not seen the strap of the young girl’s handbag, says Gomez.
“Four hours later and the storm would have rolled in. She would have either drowned in the tire, or her body would have been pulled into the lake” says Kainz.
A few hours after they rescued her, winds were up to 50km and waves were as high as three feet within the harbour walls. And the constables’ day wasn’t over yet. After rescuing the young woman and getting her to safety they, were called to help a sailboat. While they were returning from that call, close to where they had rescued the woman earlier in the day, they got a call for two kayakers in distress.
As they approached the scene, they could see a young man in water, holding on to a capsized kayak, while a woman was hanging on to the harbour wall, unable to get up.
The water was beating against the hull of the boat and Kainz was trying to maneuver it carefully. His main concern was that the young man, seeing signs of a rescue, would swim towards them and get caught under the boat.
“We were yelling at him to stay where he was,” recalls Gomez.
“It was a good thing there were three of us on the boat,” adds Kainz, as he, along with Jordan’s help, tethered the boat to the harbour wall, Gomez threw in a ring buoy to the young man. They pulled him on shore and then went in to rescue the girl.
“She was petite,” says Kainz, “her life jacket barely fit her.”
“We both knew enough not to pick her up by her jacket, because she could have slipped through it,” adds Gomez.
As they rescued the two kayakers, both started crying and thanking the officers. “The boy told me he was a good swimmer,” says Kainz. “But, in these conditions, even he could not do anything.”
“30 minutes tops,” says Gomez, for the survival time of a good swimmer in such conditions.
“I think he was more in shock about the helplessness he felt in being unable to help his girlfriend, who couldn’t swim,” adds Gomez.
While the second rescue of the day was due to a call, and not one they stumbled upon, the two agreed it was the trickier of the rescues.
Both agreed that the measure of their success was three lives saved.