By John Fitts
NEW HARTFORD – While the story ends sadly, a Canton police officer is being heralded for his bravery in rescuing an elderly man from the waters of the Farmington River Monday.
It was approximately 11:30 a.m. when state police spotted a 70-year-old New Hartford man in the Farmington River in New Hartford in the vicinity of the River Run complex on Route 44.
State police, New Hartford and Winsted ambulance crews, as well as volunteer fire departments from New Hartford, Nepaug and Canton, responded to the scene on the west side of the river but, due to a deep, fast-flowing channel of water, were hampered from immediately reaching the man.
Canton police officer Andrew Schiffer was asked to travel up Farmington River Turnpike on the east side of the river. A portion of that road is closed and blocked off during the winter and Schiffer had to reach the scene on foot.
He grabbed his medical backpack, expecting he would simply be assisting state troopers.
However, he found himself alone on the east side of the river and much closer to the patient, who on an island but partially submerged in the water.
Schiffer said the patient was initially responsive to the commands he was receiving from crews across the river but then something changed.
“He kind of rolled over and went face down in the water,” he said. “I could see the fire teams were getting their stuff ready but they were not ready to get in yet.”
Schiffer grew up spending a lot of time in the river in the Catskills, and had specialized rescue, current and cold-water training while with the West Hartford Police Department, where he was also commander of the dive team.
“Part of our dive team experience is risk-benefit analysis,” he added. “Things happen fast when you’re evaluating situations.”
Based on his training, he estimated the water wasn’t deep. It also had boulders on which rest and he planted himself firmly, facing upstream.
“I worked my way across using the principles I know from swift-water rescue,” he said.
He rolled the patient over and moved the man to less shallow water. The man’s breathing was labored and Schiffer helped him maintain an airway until the fire crews ferried a boat across and put him in a rescue basket.
The man was airlifted to the hospital by LIFE STAR. On Tuesday, however, state police said he had passed away. They did not comment on why the man was in the water.
See more in next week’s edition of the Valley Press.