Exceptional Calls for Service


Being in the right place at the right time saves man’s life

police diver floating in waterSome situations come down to simply being in the right place at the right time. On August 5, 2018, two Ottawa Police Service (OPS) Marine, Dive and Trails (MDT) Unit officers came across a man in the water. They stopped to check on his well-being, an act that saved his life. 

Just like our roadways, the water in our city is regulated by Federal, Provincial and Municipal laws. That’s why the OPS has officers patrolling the waterways as part of the MDT. They are responsible for the upper Ottawa River, lower Ottawa River and the Rideau River as far as Burritt’s Rapids Lock.

Constable Walt Lushman has been an officer for 15 years, 12 of which have been with the MDT unit.

“Our mandate is to conduct education, awareness and enforcement on the water,” said Cst. Lushman, who was keen to join the section because he grew up boating.

On the day in question, the officers were on the Rideau River near Kars boat launch promoting Operation Dry Water, an annual provincial safety campaign that creates awareness about sober boating.

“It was a really hot, sunny afternoon on a long weekend, so there were a lot of boats on the water,” said Constable Paul Baechler, a 10-year veteran of the OPS who joined the MDT unit in 2017.

It was about 4 p.m. when they encountered a kayak modified with an electric motor. It had taken on water and the officers could see a man in his 50s splashing beside it.

“We swung by to make sure he was okay, something we frequently do when we encounter boaters or swimmers,” said Cst. Lushman. “I expected him to say he was fine, just having a swim to cool off.”

But the man was not fine. His boat had been swamped by the wake of a passing vessel and he’d ended up in the water. The man was wearing a life jacket, but it had become defective with age.

“It’s not enough to have safety equipment with you,” said Cst. Baechler, “it needs to work, too. In this case, the jacket didn’t properly fit and it was so old, the material was absorbing water.”

The man was experiencing Instinctive Drowning Response, a reaction that occurs in humans when close to drowning.  In this state, a person is unable to keep their mouth above water long enough to breathe properly or to shout. The lack of air prevents the victim from waving or any other maneuver to attract attention. Typically, this state lasts a minute or less, after which drowning occurs.

The officers pulled the man out of the water and into the patrol boat. Once he was able to breathe again, he recovered quickly, other than a minor cut on his hand resulting from the engine propeller when he first went into the water.

When the man could speak, he told his rescuers he had waved to other boaters for assistance, but, not realizing he was in danger, they had simply waved back and continued without stopping.

“Two things can be learned from this,” said Cst. Lushman. “A fun activity like swimming or boating can turn into a life-threatening situation very quickly, so always make sure your equipment can serve the purpose it is meant to do. The other is, take a few moments to check on your fellow water users. In this case, someone was in such distress; they couldn’t call for help when they needed it.” 

When they dropped the man off at the launch, along with his kayak, he gave them a big hug.

“I think we did what anyone would have done, had they been aware of the situation,” said Cst. Baechler, “but I’m glad we were there to help.”

Canine team locates suspects

Canine teamsSergeant Mark MacMillan has been a police officer for 27 years, working in the Canine Unit for the past several years.

“Dogs have great noses,” said Sgt. MacMillan, “enabling them to track scents or sniff out narcotics and explosives.”

The section looks for breeds that are genetically predisposed for tracking, like shepherds, who can focus and won’t be easily distracted.

 “Dogs who have a ‘high-ball’ drive, where they want to retrieve the ball, and those who respond to food rewards are the best candidates,” he said.

On average, a dog is in service with the section for nine years. The commitment for the handler is a little longer. It’s not unusual for an officer to cycle through two dogs during their career in the Canine Unit.

On September 1, 2018, Sgt. MacMillan had just finished a RIDE program when he received a report of shots fired on Bank Street near Hunt Club and three men fleeing the scene in a vehicle.

“No one was injured. I was nearby and I positioned myself at Hunt Club and Lorry Greenburg, taking a chance they would come my way and a vehicle matching the description provided drove by.”

Sgt. MacMillan followed, not alerting them to his presence as he waited for back up to arrive. When he did activate his lights, the suspect vehicle sped away and Sgt. MacMillan engaged in a pursuit.

The vehicle got away and patrol cars flooded the area to search for them. The vehicle was located, abandoned, about a kilometre away.

“Now we had something the dog could use to trace the suspects,” said Sgt. MacMillan. He called in one of his officers, Cst. Brett Chisholm and his partner of three years, Riso.

Sometimes, there’s a bit of luck in tracking too.

“As I attended the area, I saw two males running past,” said Cst. Chisholm, “so I started a track from there.”

Riso led Cst. Chisholm through several backyards when they came across some clothing discarded by the suspects. “This was actually very helpful to us,” said Cst. Chisholm, “and unfortunate for the suspects.”

The suspects were located a few minutes later in a car.

“There are always a lot of variables when we are looking for suspects,” said Sgt. MacMillan. “The biggest factor is probably how familiar the area is to them. If they know where to go and where they can hide or if they have access to a home in the area, that makes things harder for us.”

Sgt. MacMillan attributes the arrests to great teamwork, communications and the use of the Canine Unit. “If it wasn’t for the dog and the handler, we wouldn’t have found them.”

Officer’s experience as a father enables him to provide emergency care to surprise baby

Constable Matthew Cook has been an officer with the Ottawa Police Service for four years. On patrol, he’s been in a lot of situations he’s been trained to handle, but this father of three never expected to be instrumental in saving a newborn baby’s life.

On January 6, 2018, Matthew was working a night shift in the rural west end of the city when he was dispatched to a 911 call where a woman in her 20s had just given birth in her home. The shocking thing was, she had been unaware she was pregnant.

The woman said she had been feeling pains throughout the evening, which she attributed to kidney stones. But when she went to the bathroom and gave birth to a boy, her shocked partner called 911.

“I was the first emergency responder on scene,” said Cst. Cook. “I rushed inside and found the woman and baby in the bathroom. The woman’s partner had wrapped the baby in a towel.”

The baby boy was unresponsive, so Cst. Cook picked him up to provide care to him.

“I rubbed his back, trying to stimulate him to take air into his lungs.”

Cst. Cook cut the umbilical cord and got the baby to take a breath. He carefully wrapped him up to keep him warm.

The paramedics arrived and as one of them provided aid to the new mother, Cst. Cook and the second paramedic dealt with the baby.

“I think watching my own children being born helped me know what to do,” said the officer.

The mother and baby were both transported to hospital.

He has had one follow up with the family.

“The baby is doing fine,” he said. “I’m just glad I was there to help.”

Officer’s hunch leads to arrest of armed robbery suspect

Criminals don’t worry about jurisdictional boundaries when they commit offences, but what they may not realize is that police services talk to each other.

Constable Martin Corbeil has been a police officer with Ottawa Police Service (OPS) for eight years. He had just started his night shift on March 9 when he saw a ‘Be On the Look Out’ (BOLO) about an armed robbery in Rockland. Shortly after, OPP requested the assistance of the OPS in the search for suspects.

“We don’t get these calls every day, but they happen from time to time,” said Cst. Corbeil. “We’re there to help our policing partners and it’s nice to know we can rely on them when we’re looking for help.”

OPP provided the description of the truck used by the suspects to flee the scene.

“This area on the border between OPP and OPS jurisdictions has been my patrol section for eight years,” said Cst. Corbeil. “I had a hunch, so I started checking some remote areas where it would be easy to hide.”

He found the property stolen from the robbery in the first location he searched. The truck was not there, but he didn’t know if any of the suspects were nearby.

“There was a need for caution,” he said, “as there were firearms used during the robbery.”

Cst. Corbeil called other officers in, including OPP. For safety reasons, he kept his cruiser lights on. “I wanted the other officers to know where to find me, but I needed to let the suspects know I was there too.”

A canine officer came out to do an evidence search.

“The dog picked up a scent. There was fresh snow, so the tracks were easy to follow, but it was really cold and the snow was sometimes up to our thighs.”

The search lasted almost two hours but they didn’t give up until they found one of the suspects.

Cst. Corbeil attributes the arrest to being part of the job he’s trained to do, along with a few lucky breaks.

“Without the OPP sending a BOLO and without my knowledge of the area, the property wouldn’t have been recovered. It was through the persistence of everyone involved that we caught one of the suspects.”

The case is before the courts.

People in crisis need to know there’s a way out

Police officers regularly deal with people in crisis, but there is nothing routine about it.

Constable Shane Gregan has been an officer with the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) for nine years.

He was on patrol in the south end of the city on October 19, 2018 when he was dispatched to a disturbance call at a residence. A mother was requesting her adult son, who had addiction problems, be removed.

“I spoke to her to find out what was going on and then went inside the home. I could hear noises on the second floor,” said Cst. Gregan. “I called out to the young man, but he didn’t answer.”

After searching the rooms and not locating him, Cst. Gregan looked through a bedroom window and saw the man on the roof.

“He was unsteady on his feet, possibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs. I was concerned because he was upset and he kept walking closer to the edge of the roof.

Initially the man wouldn’t speak to Cst. Gregan. “Just the fact he was on the roof though, indicated he was at risk of harming himself.”

Cst. Gregan knew he had to keep the man calm. There were young children returning home from school and there was a crowd of people forming, causing the man further stress. Cst. Gregan radioed for other officers to attend and assist with the growing number of people.

“Some people were yelling supportive comments, but others were telling him to stop being an idiot and get off the roof, which wasn’t helping the situation.”

A public presence is this type of situation can be problematic. “I don’t think people are aware a situation can escalate just by their being there. That’s why it’s so important to follow the officer’s instructions and stay away from a scene as it’s unfolding.”

Cst. Gregan understood the importance of making a connection with the man and ensuring he didn’t feel cornered.

“There are many reasons why people are in crisis and you never want them to feel there is no way out,” he said.

It started with an offer of a sweater. “It was cold out and he wasn’t dressed to be outside. His feet were bare.”

The man accepted a sweater and Cst. Gregan was able to start to talk with him.

“I told him there were options, there was help available and this wasn’t an ‘all or nothing’ situation.”

After about an hour in total, the man agreed to come inside.

He was taken into custody under the Mental Health Act; there was no criminal wrong doing.

“I’m glad we were able to get this young man the help he needed and that the situation resolved itself the way it did. We want everyone to know, there is help out there if you need it.”

Your mental health is as important as your physical health. For more information and available resources, go to ottawapolice.ca/mental health.

Officers safely evacuate multi-unit dwelling after  man sets fire to his apartment

Police officers are there to help, even when they encounter someone who doesn’t want it.

On April 8, 2018 patrol officer John Varga was on night shift when he was dispatched to a disturbance call at a multi-unit dwelling on Somerset Street.

The information from the Communications Centre was that someone was yelling and throwing things in their apartment.

Constable Varga, a 16 year vet to policing, was the first officer to arrive on scene with Constable Steve Bond and Constable Thomas Roberts.

“I could see the glow of fire through a first floor window,” said Cst. Varga, “so I updated dispatch to send Fire and Paramedic services.”

They couldn’t wait. “Lives are a priority, so we had to go inside immediately,” said Cst. Varga.

Despite the smoke filling the lobby, the three officers entered the building. Constables Bond and Roberts went up to the stairs and yelled out to confirm everyone was out. Cst. Varga breached the door to the apartment where the smoke was coming from.

“At this point I could hear someone screaming, but I didn’t know exactly where they were,” he said.

 Fortunately, the fire hadn’t spread far beyond the cardboard boxes that had been set on fire.

“But the smoke was everywhere and it was hard to breathe,” said Cst. Varga.

Cst. Roberts ran to his patrol car and grabbed the fire extinguisher and they quickly subdued the fire.

The officers searched the apartment and determined the screams were coming from a storage closet in the lobby adjacent to the unit.

Cst. Varga tried the closet door, but it was locked. He went outside to see if he could access the closet from the window. He could see a man perched on the window sill.

“I tried to negotiate with him to come out on his own, but he was in a state of mind that he wasn’t hearing me,” said Cst. Varga. “We figured he was the same person the disturbance call was about. We wanted to make sure he was safe, but we needed to get him out of there in case he started another fire.”

The man pounded on the window, breaking it and cutting his arms and hands in the process.

“Now he was injured and in need of medical help, but we couldn’t reach him.”

The window was seven to eight feet off the ground, so the firefighters put a ladder up to the window. Cst. Jones grabbed the man, who tried to slice him with a piece of glass.

The man continued fighting with officers, so to reduce injury to the subject and the officers, a taser was deployed. In all, there were seven officers involved in the arrest.

The man was handcuffed so paramedics could treat him.

“There was so much going on, it felt like a lot longer, but it was only about 10 – 15 minutes from when I arrived on scene until we had him under control and he was getting medical attention.”

Csts. Varga, Roberts and Bond were taken to the hospital and checked for smoke inhalation. All three were examined and released.

The officers received a Chief’s Commendation for their efforts.

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