Last Monday night around 7pm a 911 call came through the city dispatch of someone jumping off of the causeway. We responded along with the Fire, Police, and EMS. Josh Hale joined the “unified command” on top of the causeway while Kara Harrison and Kris Pompa launched our boat and searched under the bridge with spotlights and sonar. Fortunately it was a false alarm.
People attempting suicide by jumping off of the causeway or swimming out into the ocean are not uncommon and we work several of these cases each year. People that are in this type of mental state are, obviously, not thinking rationally. But there is often this sort of romanticized version of ending your life in the ocean. The ocean brings many of us peace. I assume this must be in the back of peoples’ minds when they start driving south on I-45. Or maybe we’re just at the end of the road.
Dealing with people who are in an unstable state of mind is very dangerous for emergency responders. Add water and that danger increases exponentially. It’s an easy thing for a would-be rescuer to drown because they were incapacitated by a blow to the neck or elsewhere. Peace officers can’t use their normal tools of the trade while submerged. For that reason we take these calls seriously and try to take precautions like approaching in a group or not entering the water unless it’s a truly life threatening emergency.
That said, a large percentage of these cases change their minds pretty quickly when they hit the water which changes the situation into a potential rescue.
A huge factor in winter rescue work is that of potential hypothermia. Web MD defines hypothermia as “…a potentially dangerous drop in body temperature, usually caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures.” Medically speaking, hypothermia starts when your core temperature drops below 95 and is defined as “severe” at or below 86. The reason it’s such an issue for us is because people can become disoriented and make bad choices pretty early on in the process.
The year round Beach Patrol staff is equipped with wetsuits and train regularly in cold water. We don’t want to become victims ourselves. We know our limits and make sure we are prepared when we enter the water. Most people don’t. Hypothermia occurs even in mild conditions. We often see mild hypothermia in the summer. Basically it’s just a matter of how much heat escapes your body and how rapidly. Factors that affect when an individual will become hypothermic are a person’s age, body mass, body fat, overall health, and length of time exposed to cold temperatures. About 90% of heat loss is from your skin and the rest occurs when you exhale. Water greatly accelerates the process.
No matter the time of year it’s important that you self-monitor. If you start to shiver, that’s your body trying to maintain its core temp.
Time to make a good choice. Warm up and dry off!
*Image courtesy of the 9th Coast Guard District’s Blog