Two Toronto police officers who saved two men trapped in an elevator during a flash flood have been named officers of the year for 2018.
“These officers demonstrated outstanding bravery, professionalism and dedication to duty,” a police statement released Tuesday evening said.
“The professional manner with which they conducted themselves is worthy of substantial recognition not only by their peers, but also the Toronto Police Service and the community in which it proudly serves.”
The award was announced during an annual reception hosted by the Toronto Region Board of Trade. The award was created by the board in 1967.
On Aug. 7, Klever Freire and colleague Gabriel Otrin were going down to the basement of their Alliance Avenue office building to move Freire’s car because of an intense storm that moved through the Toronto area. Friere said at the time that the elevator suddenly started flooding. The pair were able to make a quick call to 911 at 10:52 p.m.
Constables Ryan Barnett and Josh McSweeney, who are based out of 11 Division, were writing up notes nearby from a previous call when they heard the call go out.
“As we were getting closer, we could hear the water was going up and up,” Barnett told reporters shortly after incident while recalling their efforts to get to the scene.
Barnett said after they arrived, people inside the building were able to open the elevator doors on the ground level. They could see the elevator car five or six feet below in the basement level. The hatch at the top of the elevator was only able to open a few inches, so Barnett said they had to go to the basement to try to force the doors open. When they went to try to go to the basement, Barnett said they saw water at the base of the stairs.
“We could see a high level of water, but we really couldn’t tell how deep it was because the water was so murky and dirty,” he said.
“So we just stripped our vests off and our gun belts and we went in the water.”
The officers had to get a key to open a locked door before getting to the elevators, noting they couldn’t see the lock and had to feel for the keyhole. Barnett said when they got to the elevator, they could hear Freire and Otrin.
“We could hear them inside screaming for help and saying that the water was getting too high and that they needed us,” he said.
“We just said that we were here. I said, ‘It’s the police, we’re here. We’re here to help you. We’re trying to open the door.’”
The water in the elevator had reached six-feet high, leaving only a foot of airspace for the trapped men.
McSweeney said at the time they used a crowbar to open the elevator doors. After the doors finally opened, McSweeney and Barnett pulled the men to safety.
After the award ceremony Tuesday evening, McSweeney said he and Barnett didn’t expect any of the recognition to happen.
“I remember when it was all said and done with, we just packed up and went back. It was the end of our shift and we went home,” he told Global News.
“Ever since then it just ballooned out of control in a positive way. As much as this is a very interesting, dramatic story, this happens all the time. So it’s just great we get to be honoured by it and there’s plenty of other officers that do just as incredible things that no one ever knows about.”
Meanwhile, Toronto police communications operator Tania Tiller was recognized last month for her efforts handling the call. Tiller was named Toronto Police Service 2018 Communicator of the Year.
According to a recent statement by police, Friere wrote the service to praise Tiller.
“The 911 operator was incredibly calm and level-headed when faced with our screams for help,” Friere was quoted as saying.
“It was almost annoying how calm she was while we frantically explained that we only had minutes of life left to breathe. Her calmness forced me to reflect on why she was being so calm. I realized that she had to think clearly in order to help us. She couldn’t risk making a mistake when lives are at stake.
“Her calmness inspired Gabriel and I to look for other opportunities to escape and eventually get the attention of maintenance workers to assist in the rescue efforts.”