First responders dive into lifesaving swim lessons

Published 3:28 pm Saturday, August 26, 2023

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LAPLACE — Thirteen first responders with the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office recently committed to becoming stronger swimmers, effectively preparing themselves to protect the public in water-related emergency situations.

The SJSO has once again partnered with the locally-based Louisiana Splash and Water Safety nonprofit for first responder swim lessons.

Louisiana Splash and Water Safety founder Melynie Wright said it’s not enough to offer swim lessons to children in the community. A collective approach involving all ages and community stakeholders is needed to prevent water-related tragedies.

“When the community is in trouble, you can’t have an officer or someone who is in a position to rescue others be afraid of water. We learned that during Katrina when officers were afraid to go into flooded waters. It was really eye-opening,” Wright said. “You can’t just teach kids. You have to teach the adults water safety so they can save people and pass on that openness to learning how to swim.”

Wright said it has been rewarding to see officers from different departments come to the swim lessons with the same goal in mind. Skill levels varied, and some of the officers who signed up for lessons were new to swimming altogether.

“I’ve always wanted to learn,” said Jacqueline Gabriel, who works in court security. “I’m 52 years old and learning how to swim. I can’t jump into the Mississippi River right now, but learning is a process, and I’m really excited about it.”

Crime scene investigator Gwendy Robinson is another brand-new swimmer.

“At my age, I thought it would be a great lesson. Now that I work for the sheriff’s department, I may need to be out there rescuing people or helping rescue people. I want to know how to do that properly,” she said.

This week, corrections officer Kyron Turley learned to increase his stamina in the pool by treading water and floating on his back.

“You never know when you are going to need to help somebody,” he said. “I encourage everyone to learn how to swim. If an emergency ever happens, you can save someone’s life.”

Patrol officer Tynisha Crushfield echoed the same sentiments.

“I want to learn a couple of extra things I feel could help me in my field. If it comes down to trying to save somebody’s life, I want to be as prepared as possible,” she said. “Small critiques make the biggest difference. I learned about keeping your head straight and being parallel with the water. Coming up to breathe makes a big difference.”

Officers were also surprised to learn how different it feels to swim in full clothing versus a bathing suit. Wright encouraged them to shed shoes, belts, and other bulky items of clothing before diving into a body of water during a rescue operation.

She also provided the officers with flotation devices and kickboards to keep in their vehicles so they are prepared if a water emergency arises.

For more information about Louisiana Splash and Water Safety, call 225-328-6084 or email